I wish I could just list every idea I’ve encountered then never cite anything…

Steve Horwitz has a great piece in the Freeman that I wish I’d written. The tl;dr: Voting isn’t all there is to political participation. This is an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head as I’m constantly remound that I’m now an American citizen (sorry everyone else in the world…) and that this November I’ll be eligible to vote for who I think should foster anti-American sentiments internationally (Republicans) or  domestically (Democrats).

The other day I said I’d consider voting but I couldn’t recall whose name I’d write in (turns out it’s Willie Nelson*). But my usual response to any question about whether I’ll vote is “No, it just encourages the bastards.” When that’s countered with “blah blah blah civic engagement blah blah” I retort with,essentially, Horwitz’s point: My vote is not going to change the outcome**, but I can contribute value by trying to convince my students that economics matters and that a vote for third party candidate (even a Green Party vote) does more good than a vote for the big two.

I don’t know where I picked up that idea, but if I’d remembered, I would have posted his piece here before he did. Even better would be if I could just list a repository of everything I’ve ever read (or heard) in some public place and just write and write without worrying about citing anything.

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What is the proper role of government? Galactic Edition

Mordanicus of Fascinating Future, a sci-fi blog, is musing over the purpose of galactic government. As Mordanicus points out, galactic empires are a staple of science fiction. They can be found in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Firefly and Foundation universes.

…the feasibility of a galactic empire is questionable.

In Asimov’s description of the galactic empire, it consists of 25 million inhabited planets and 500 quadrillion people, 20 billion per planet on average. It is hard to even imagine a planetary empire, and no such thing has ever existed in human history, let alone such enormous empire.

The fundamental issue with an empire of this size is effective control by the central government. Its sheer size makes it inevitable to delegate many administrative powers to “local” planetary official. But the more power is transferred to individual planets, the less power remains with the central government. The question is then what is the proper function of the imperial government?

What is the purpose of these empires though? In those sci-fi universes with aliens these empires serve some defensive role for our Milky Way galaxy, but in many sci-fi universes there is no clear visible external threat.  What is the purpose of the empire then? Or is it simply a way for wealth distribution by those living in the Saturn beltway?

I personally view merit in a galactic empire if it were able to maintain internal peace. I have no doubt that in a space faring civilization there will be pirates and I believe that there are economies of scale in galactic trade route policing.

There is also merit in an empire that can keep rogue planetary governments in check. A galactic empire would be restrained in its ability to govern on its own given the largess of space and would need to delegate many functions to different layers of government. An empire would however still serve as a last layer of resort for those petitioning against their planetary government.

What about NOL readers? Are you convinced that space piracy warrants an empire? Or would a space faring civilization be better government by planetary or sub-planetary governments?

Read the full post from Mordanicus here.

How to split up California?

The idea of splitting up California has been previously discussed on NOL (see here, here, and most recently). In this post I wish to consider how California could be split up.

California has a large population of 38.8 million. For comparison Canada has 35.1 million residents distributed among its 10 provinces and the New England states house 14.7 million yankees in six states. With such a large population it is not surprising that the state has several regions with distinct cultures. This in itself is not sufficient merit to split up the state. One of the wonders of a liberal republican form of government is that diverse populations can coexist so long as they are treated equally before the law and have the freedom to exercise their various cultures. The problem is when these cultural differences lead to different public policy demands.

Consider for example the issue of abortion. In most matters of religion it is sufficient to allow different faiths to practice their beliefs so long as they keep to themselves. Why should non-Jews care if Jews must follow kosher dietary restrictions? The same cannot be done with abortion though. Those who believe, often due to their religious inclinations, that abortion is murder cannot tolerate its practice among those of other faiths or atheists. What is to be done?

One option would be to break up California. Although those on both sides of the abortion debate exist across California, there is also quite a bit of spatial correlation. See here. The Central Valley and Inland Empire counties both have significant portions of their populations favoring abortion limitations. Both regions also have low support for same sex marriage, see here, so it is safe to assume that their cultural differences with the rest of California is not on just one issue but several important public policies.

I would caution those who propose splitting up California between its inland and coastal regions. Both the Central Valley and Inland Empire may be culturally conservative, but the inland northern counties do not seem to fall in line. Nor would I recommend the Coastal/Inland split for those concerned about partisanship, see here. The San Francisco Bay Area, Northern Coast and Los Angeles are liberal strongholds but the Central Coast and Orange-San Diego region aren’t.

Similarly a North/South split would do little to help address regional cultural differences. The North/South split would usually split the state apart at San Luis Obispo-Kern-San Bernardino county lines. This would lead to the conservative Central Valley being lumped into the same state as ultra-liberal San Francisco. Meanwhile the Inland Empire and Orange-San Diego counties would find themselves sharing a state with blue Los Angeles.

What would be a good split then?

I personally favor the creation of four new states. Jefferson (the northern coastal and inland counties), San Francisco (the bay area states), Los Angeles (LA County), Central Valley (everything between Fresno and Bakersfield roughly) and the rest of southern California.

Given that any division would have to be approved by Congress the new states of Jefferson, San Francisco, and Los Angeles would have to be gerrymandered in such a way as to ensure they are blue states and maintain as many electoral votes from old California as possible. The Central Coast would likely be gobbled up between LA and San Francisco.  This gerrymandering would be needed to get Democrat votes who would otherwise be against losing all those electoral votes. Although Democrats would get two more seats in the Senate the Republicans could favor the deal in order to sweep extra electoral votes from the Central Valley and Southern California.

Although the split would be less than perfect, it would still grant greater say over public policy to the conservation counties.

Thoughts? Further maps on Californian public policy opinions can be found here.

P.S. In regards to the water issue, I like to think that the split of California would lead to a revision of the Colorado River Compact and related laws in order to create a more market oriented process for water allocation. I can dream can’t I?

Is government decentralization the right answer to differences across regions?

That’s the main question being asked by Federico Boffa, Amedeo Piolatto, and Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto, all economists. I cruised through the whole paper (pdf) and have some superficial thoughts. One snippet:

Western California is more liberal, even among Republican voters and politicians; Eastern California considerably more conservative […] At a first glance, such a political divide might suggest that a break up of coastal and inland California would be optimal on preference-matching grounds […]

[H]owever [this is a] superficial assessment. [Eastern California] contain[s] a large Hispanic population that overwhelmingly prefers the Democratic party. This group is much less educated, less politically knowledgeable, and less likely to vote than Republican supporters in the region, who are on average older, whiter, and wealthier. At the same time, the left-wing Hispanic working class in the Valley shares the political leanings of highly educated liberals on the coast. This ideological alignment goes beyond mere partisanship and includes shared preferences over policies.

As a consequence, our model suggests that the political integration of California is welfare maximizing. For relatively uneducated inland minorities to have a government corresponding to their preferences, it is essential that they share a state with ideologically aligned liberal elites in the Bay area. Right-wing Californians, instead, are sufficiently educated and influential to have a voice in state-wide politics, despite being in the minority: California had a Republican governor for twenty-one of the past thirty years.

[This lesson] applies more broadly. Disadvantaged ethnic minorities— which are less educated and often politically underrepresented— should belong whenever possible to the same polity as better educated and higher-status voters having similar political preferences. Only then are politicians effectively held accountable to both groups. (29-30)

California is “welfare maximizing”? Somebody help me out here. Isn’t it also possible that poor Hispanics and rich liberals form a voting bloc in California as it is because of how the GOP is patched together? If California split into an East/West, current coalitions would be shattered and it doesn’t follow that rich liberals and poor Hispanics would share the same voting preferences in the new arrangement. It doesn’t follow that rich conservatives and poor Hispanics in a hypothetical East would be at odds, either.

The biggest weakness in the paper, if you can call it that, is that the authors are focused on the fiscal aspects of federalism rather than the diplomatic, cultural, and political aspects. Federalism binds people together and forces them to at least try to come to an agreement about some issues. That’s a big deal, though it’s obviously not sexy.

The paper is focused on the EU and the US. There are lots of interesting insights into the European Union but the US angle is kinda boring (I’m sure is vice-versa for readers living and working in Europe). (h/t Mark Koyama)

What’s the difference between Saudi Arabia and Islamic State?

One has captured the rent associated with being a state in the post-World War II world order. This means that one of these polities gets to build embassies in other states. It gets to participate in congresses. It gets to fly its flag at the United Nations and has access to the World Bank, military hardware markets (“for defense”), and FIFA tournaments.

Rent capture isn’t all good, of course. There are still costs. When Saudi Arabia beheads people, for example, it gets condemned internationally. Its reputation suffers. It has to repair relationships and launch rigorous public relations campaigns. Saudi Arabia has to do these things because if it looks intransigent to enough of its fellow states, there might be official repercussions for its actions. Saudi Arabia can’t just go around killing and looting and raping at will. It has to formalize its killing, looting, and raping through the international order by coming up with a national interest. (A national interest is also important for shoring up domestic support for such activities.)

But incorporating Islamic State into the international order is unfathomable. It’s an immoral action rewarding an immoral pseudo-polity. Besides, the sovereignty of the states of Iraq and Syria would be violated and their borders destroyed. It’s better to just keep bombing the region Islamic State claims to govern and arming the factions that claim to be its enemies. That’s been our policy towards the post-colonial world since 1945 and, while imperfect, it’s been working out well so far…

From the Comments: Military intervention, democracy, and stability

Longtime reader (and excellent blogger in his own right) Tam has an interesting response to Chhay Lin’s thoughts on the Paris terrorist attacks:

It is an interesting read indeed but there are two or even more sides to every story. What we are also noting is that many of these groups that hate Western interventionist policies also hate their own people for being different in one way or the other. However, I agree that the misplaced perception of democracy as the superior form of governance overlooks the essential internal historical and socio-political factors behind the politics of the different countries that have become victims of Western ‘sanctification’ processes fronted by bombs after daring to opt not to embrace democracy. Libya and Iraq were stable before Western intervention.

Tam’s point strikes at the heart of the difference between military interventionists and non-interventionists, I think. Libya and Iraq were indeed stable, but not everybody was free. In Iraq, Shias, Kurds, liberals, and religious Sunnis were all brutally suppressed, and this oppression stood in stark contrast to the freedoms that secularists, women, union members, some socialists, and the politically apathetic enjoyed. The sociopolitical dynamics in Libya were the same, though with different local actors.

This reality is something that both sides of the interventionist debate recognize, though the interventionist side seems to place much more faith in government when it comes to “doing something.” Jacques and Edwin, for example, have both argued that bombing ambiguous factions in Iraq, Syria, and Libya would contribute to the freedoms of the oppressed factions in those countries. Looking back on the debate makes it clear that they weren’t wrong, but look at what those freedoms have produced. Those freedoms have come at the expense of the freedoms of the factions that the dictators were protecting.

What this situation shows me is that the states of the post-colonial world are unviable. Stability comes at too steep a price (dictatorship), and democracy’s unpredictability only leads to predictably violent results in the post-colonial world.

This impasse, which I cannot be the only one in the world who recognizes, has led me to take a hard glance at two specific peace processes in the Western world: The diplomatic efforts of Europeans after the Napoleonic Wars (“Concert of Europe”) and the founding of the American republic, which is, in my mind, the most successful endeavor in the history of international relations. Neither of these efforts led to the complete abolition of war, but both have helped to maintain a relatively peaceful co-existence between large numbers of factions for long periods of time.

The Concert of Europe bought time for factions in the region to solidify their legitimacy at home, culminating in both the creation of Germany and Italy in the late nineteenth century and the infamous overseas imperial  domains of France, the UK, and the Netherlands (among a few others). While this peace process brought about prosperity for Western Europe, it was not inclusive and it still adhered to the Westphalian notion of state sovereignty. What state sovereignty means is that each state, in the context of international affairs, has a right to do whatever it pleases within the confines of its own borders (such as massacre hundreds of thousands of people in the name of stability). The Concert of Europe was also the precursor to the post-1945 peace process that created the state system that we all live with today, though I would argue that there are some elements that could be republican, such as the IMF and World Bank, provided some changes in mindset.

Aside from the problems produced by the notion of state sovereignty, the states of the post-colonial world today suffer from an issue of legitimacy, both from domestic populations and from foreign ones. Domestically, all of the factions that stability-inducing dictatorships oppress do not buy in to the argument that the states purporting to govern them are legitimate. In foreign affairs, many factions do not believe that these post-colonial states are legitimate either. Hence the calls for bombing campaigns, proxy wars, or outright invasions and occupations of states like Iraq and Libya by states like the US or France (even if these invasions come at the expense of domestic and international rule of law).

This situation, where post-colonial states claim to have sovereignty within an international state system but where domestic and international factions ignore such claims, is where we’re at today. It’s the status quo, and while it worked relatively well in a small part of the world for about hundred years or so, it’s obviously failing today.

Enter the founding of the American republic. Unlike the Concert of Europe, self-determination à la breaking away from the UK was a guiding principle of the federal system, rather than state sovereignty. Like the Concert of Europe, the statesmen who crafted the American republic were concerned about invasion, hegemony, and all of the other bad stuff that happens in the international arena. So they set up an inclusive, republican system of states rather than attempt to balance power off on each other, like they did in Europe. The republican, or federal, system tied each state up into the affairs of the other states, whereas the balance of power system contributed to the formation of rival blocs within the system. This is why Europe switched from trying to maintain yet another balancing act to building an actual confederation (though one that is far too complex than it has to be) after World War II.

From a strictly war and peace view, the republican state system has led to one war so far (dating from 1789). From the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1815, to today, the balance of power state system has led to numerous wars.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy was based on self-determination, and his foreign policy was a disaster. This is true, though I would argue that Wilson was simply confused about what self-determination actually implied. For Wilson, recognizing the self-determination of various groups within empires would lead to state sovereignty for these groups, and that this state sovereignty would then be protected by the institutions trying to maintain a balance of power. Wilson never entertained the notion of republicanism when it came to recognizing the self-determination of peoples living in empires, he simply thought empires were undemocratic. Thus, he was actually a proponent of state sovereignty rather than self-determination.

What I am not arguing for here is a Concert of Europe-type effort for Middle Eastern actors. I think it would be a disaster, largely because regional efforts at peace-building (rather than, say, trade agreements) are useless in today’s globalized world. The Middle East needs the West, and vice-versa. Peace will only be achieved if self-determination is embraced (by not only large swathes of Mideast factions, but Western ones as well) and the new polities can be incorporated into existing republican-esque institutions. This way, more factions have a voice, and bad actors can be more easily isolated. I am not necessarily arguing that the US or EU should welcome burgeoning Mideast states into their federations, but policymakers and statesmen from these countries should at least start thinking about how to encourage and embrace the notion of a Middle East that looks a lot like our own republican world and less like the one we gave them following the destruction of the Ottoman Empire.

Stability is overrated, especially if the notion of creative destruction is taken into account.

An Alternative to the Presiding Theory of Privilege

Recently, debate about systemic privilege has been omnipresent, as fodder for political campaigning and millennial-dominated critique of culture. Peggy McIntosh first wrote about white privilege in an ontological checklist that ultimately offered representation as privilege, e.g., if you can open a newspaper and see your race, if you learn about your civilization in the history books, etc. This classification has mostly been lost to simplifications that pervert its sensible message. Everydayfeminism, which exemplifies modern dogma in line with women’s studies courses, defines privilege as a “set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.” This transliteration is still an interesting exercise in understanding social dynamics and has general applicability; however, when applied to issues such as the proven gender pay gap (whether the figure is the oft-cited 79%, 93%, lower or higher), often for a privilege of this categorization to be genuinely manifested every single individual involved has to be knowingly sexist, including the victim of the unlevel playing field.

For an example: Joanna is a secretary at a large business firm. She discovers her coworker Jim gets a larger paycheck for the exact same job, and they both take equal days off. She learns she is making $.79 to his one dollar. The federal Equal Pay Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act make this illegal. Now, for Jim’s male privilege (the unearned benefit of larger pay) to continue:

  1. Joanna has to not report it to her boss or the authorities
  2. Jim has to not report it to his boss or the authorities
  3. Her boss has to stay intentionally sexist and not correct the disparity

Only if all of these conditions are met will the situation remain unrectified. This workplace privilege, built by a narrative that pay is different for the exact same job, relies on intentional sexism or surrender of all parties – it loses sight of subtlety completely. The current privilege hypothesis is also not very useful because different groups receive de facto and de jure benefits in different circumstances – no single sexual, racial or gendered group dominates every aspect of authority, though certainly a specific Caucasian demographic dominates most of it. The hypothesis is primitive in this sense, and it is also imprecise in that, because of political correctness, it entirely misses the true nature of “privilege,” more on that later.

Perhaps in recognition of the failures of this undeveloped adaptation, some modern feminist writers have employed the 1990’s idea of kyriarchy that more adequately describes the modality of experience through position in stratified society. Elisabeth Schüssler Florenza’s kyriarchal system sought to analyze layers of objective privilege overlapped in social milieu. Yet although all feminists cite privilege as an everyday occurrence, the few social justice warriors that have heard of kyriarchy can rarely be relied on to understand its nuanced applicability, and fewer still can appreciate the algorithmic complexity to determine actual systems of privilege. It has been simplified, again, into white, black, male, female, cis- and transgender, and so on. Intersectional feminism – a desperate linguistic attempt to avoid the egalitarian label – still alleges an all-encompassing subordination, and then seeks to recognize exchanges throughout other identity types that further enforce the oppression. This ideological branch could have been one of legitimate merit, except that again its white- and androcentric view of privilege, though broadly qualifiable, disallows further theorizing. The system lacks usefulness because its analysis, as interpreted by modern feminists, is embedded into its definition. Abstract discussion of privilege is unachievable.

Talking about privilege with intent to reach further conclusions is not only impossible, but it also feels like a competition just because of self-loathing and thoroughly brainwashed contributions from both sides of the debate. Moving past the caricatures of race, gender, sex or wealth: the only group that suffers on all fronts is the physically or mentally disabled, and their representation is horribly lacking, their image pitied, and advocates are few and far compared to organizations for other identities. However, if you want to be completely astute, the only group of people not privileged is those that are not customarily good-looking. It’s the conventionally attractive or wealthy people that own the power, when its not built on pure work or entrepreneurialism. Charisma is a part of this. People that are typically thought of as ugly never get the advantage and people of orthodox beauty standards often dominate the masses.  This conclusion can be arrived at from pure observance, and holds more empirical strength than the speculative nature of current privilege theory that consistently ignores the concept of individual cases.

Privilege boils down to beauty and humans divine facial attractiveness from symmetry. Plato thought that we find things beautiful when we infer virtues from gazing upon them: bridges can summon feelings of strength, sunsets, of harmony; our souls recognize our own need for these stabilities. It isn’t remarkable that humans find symmetry beautiful and then psychologically categorize faces into attractive and unattractive. (Nor does it mean, however, that asymmetric faces are not beautiful. Esthetics would reveal more truths in this topic.) Applying this idea instantly collapses the perceived white hegemony, as beautiful people from any walk of life are flocked to from the average-looking majority. Beauty is power like sex is power. When privilege is observed it will be never be in the hands of the unattractive.

To extrapolate with the question of the largest burden of oppression and privilege: Where does racism actually come from? It’s intrinsically irrational, typically xenophobic, and ubiquitous across the continents. This theory could be interpreted to suggest that racists hold unreasonable views about other skin colors and ethnicities because of a lack of physical attraction, which coincides with an inability to relate familially and romantically. Systematic racial disparity and racist paradigms would then be caused by hyper-localized, nondiverse beauty standards. It could also be deducted that those of the natural default (without racist tendencies) are capable of nondiscriminatory and cosmopolitan attraction. Now here we see a definite connection between sexuality and bigotry, two contingents only meaninglessly juxtaposed by the mainstream privilege theory.

In conclusion, instead of challenging the conjecture of authoritative gendered dominion, progressives and activists could more benefit from challenging society’s standard of beauty. The standard that tells equally men and women what is and isn’t desirable. The advantages of injecting truth into the politics of self-worth are critical for a society concerned with honest evaluation and individual progress. The individual’s own conception of self-beauty is usually either bolstered by inflated confidence or hampered by poor self-image and has no overlap with how objectively beautiful they are, beauty that is uninvolved from ethnicity, sex or gender.

A note: I imagine myself to be, and from my life opportunities it would seem I am, decently attractive, so in either conviction of privilege I’m decently privileged, as a young white male or as a decently attractive person. Hopefully this grants more credibility to my writing, as if I was unattractive, it would probably come off as tormented and envious. Fortunately I have the chutzpah to stand on the line and propound these ideas regardless. Measures should be taken to highlight the identity group that will forever go without privilege or authority: the ugly people.