A Modest Proposal: Enclose the Commons

In a previous post, I asked:

… what if the current positive feedback circuit [now operative in our politics] could be re-wired so that it was a negative feedback circuit, like that of the steam engine and its governor? What if the penalties for vicious and imprudent political decisions were immediate and severe, while the rewards for virtuous, prudent political decisions were both explicit and compelling?

This in reference to the pervasive moral corruption of our lawgivers, and by extension of everyone involved in politics; for:

As things now stand, the people charged with the reformation of society – chiefly our legislators, but by extension everyone who participates in politics, from executives and bureaucrats to lobbyists and electors, both the regulators and the regulated, and especially the media – are rewarded for increasing the noise of our social system. Where there is a problem, especially of the sort caused by the brakes they have already installed, they are encouraged to apply further brakes to the brakes, and brakes to the brakes to the brakes, and so on ad infinitum. This is why our code of laws has metastasized, so that laws proliferate without let or hindrance, and so that they more and more pervade every aspect of our lives, no matter how humble.

And this is due to the fact that:

… the basic feedback circuit of a democracy characterized by universal suffrage is positive, a vicious cycle: the electorate is strongly motivated to vote themselves more benefits and lower taxes, more liberty to act out with fewer limits or constraints, or costs, for doing so. The more people see they can get from the state, the more they vote to get from the state. Nothing signals to them that they are demanding too much, that they are eating cultural seed corn. In the circumstances, any other behavior on their part would be irrational. So the bankruptcy of the system – economic, moral, and intellectual – is hardwired in.

Something must be done, or we are headed for a systemic crash. Indeed, we may be headed for such a crash no matter what is done. If so, so be it; the instability of evil is the morality of the universe; let God arise.

But whether we are headed for a systemic crash or not, it behooves us nonetheless, as at any time, to do our best to stave it off. It behooves us always, as our plain duty, to do our best.

How might we arrange things so that the success or failure of policy fed back to the development thereof, so that the present vicious cycle of wickedness had at least a shot at a phase change into virtuosity?

It’s simple, really. The universal franchise makes of the whole culture a commons, so that mere rationality impels every man to rape it as hard as he can, to get while the getting is good. Enclose the commons, then, and give him a share of ownership therein.

How? Create property rights in the commons. To each citizen, as soon as he becomes a citizen, devolve a share of the common popular enterprise. Each share entitles its owner to a vote in the affairs of the polis, and to an equal portion of the profits – the excess of revenues over expenditures – generated thereby. Let the shares be tradable among any natural persons, so long as they have attained legal majority (this would protect children from the moral hazard posed by the possibility of selling their birthright for a mess of pottage, until they were able to see far enough to understand the wages of that meal)(it would also give them some insulation from foolish parents). So that they cannot inflate, and to prevent the establishment of a permanent and therefore incipiently foolish gentry, let the shares expire with no value a century after their date of issue.

What would happen?

There would be two sets of effects: the policy effects, and the social effects. Take the former first.

Because shareholders would all be entitled to a share of the political profit, they would all be interested to see that there should be such a thing, and that it should grow handsomely. Interested as now in maximizing their take from the commons, they would want to maximize the economic and social efficiency of expenditures, and the volume and efficiency of revenues.

In respect to the former, every shareholder – including those employed in the media and entertainment industries – would cast a gimlet eye on every expenditure, and one by one the least rational expenditures would be exposed to withering analysis and ridicule, and then zeroed out, or redirected. This would be true also of laws and regulations, which all impose off-budget costs. The details needn’t be specified; but, e.g., shareholders might look at transfer payments and welfare benefits, and conclude that the poor and needy would actually reap more benefit if the thousands of programs and millions of workers engaged in delivering them were simply scrapped, and the entire budgets of the relevant departments allocated instead to dividends.

In respect to the latter, shareholder interest in maximizing revenues would quickly focus the attention of political discourse on the best way to increase the revenue base – i.e., the productive economy – and to collect the maximum revenues that can be extracted from that base without reducing the growth thereof. The focus, from one election cycle to the next, would be on what policies would most increase the net present value of revenues. Again, it is not too informative to speculate on the details; but, e.g., shareholders might quickly conclude that the present system of taxation deters enterprise and is ridiculously expensive to collect, and decide to replace it with a national sales tax or tonlieu.

There would of course still be egregious errors of policy. That’s just life. But electors would at least be interested in correcting them, rather than exploiting them for private gain, and thus perpetuating them, as now.

Do we really want a political order that is interested in maximizing the revenues it harvests from us? Absolutely. If your goal is to maximize revenues from a social enterprise, you want the most prosperous society you can arrange to get. I.e., you want as free a market as you can get, as educated and wise and virtuous a populace as you can get, as stable and safe, orderly and lawful – and pleasant – an environment as you can get. In a word, you want a society that promotes and facilitates true human flourishing – just what everyone wants for himself.

So much for the effect on policy. What about the social effects? The plain and uncomfortable truth is that fools would quickly sell their shares to the wise and the ambitious. At least for the first few years, with government budgets still deep in the red, the shares would be paying no dividends at all. They would therefore be almost worthless to those who think in terms of days or weeks, or who are simply desperate. Many such would sell, even at the rock-bottom prices that would then prevail.[1]

Shares would therefore be concentrated fairly quickly in the hands of the far-sighted – exactly the sort of folks best able to discern the policies most likely to increase the prosperity and virtue of society, and thus the value of their shares. This concentration of power would be a massive step away from the universal franchise, and toward a government of and by – and for – the most enterprising and virtuous among us. And it would sharpen, clarify and rationalize political discourse to an amazing degree.  This would result in a sharp increase in the efficiency and velocity of reform. Things could turn around fairly quickly.

In the United States, enclosure of the democratic commons would require a Constitutional amendment. The only reason such an amendment might pass is that everyone would benefit from it. Even the greedy and shortsighted would discern their profit on that deal.

Whether or not any of us live to see it, the logic of the enclosure of the democratic commons – and the disastrous illogic of the alternative – is such that sooner or later it is bound somehow to come to pass.[2]


[1] This would not at all prevent them from making a go of their lives, and buying as many shares as they wanted to, later on, when they were flush.

[2] Moldbug’s neocameralism is obviously next door to the suggestion of enclosure, but while I have profited from reading his work, I have been thinking about enclosure for twenty years.

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151 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal: Enclose the Commons

  1. Moldbug observed that corporations are generally better run than democracies. This works because one voting block of shareholders cannot vote themselves stuff at the expense of another block of shareholders.

    So the solution is to make redistribution morally abhorrent.

    • The majority stockholder can eat all the profit if he wants. There are many ways: for example hiring with the main company another company that he owns 100% for a service that costs exactly … the entire profit. Or maybe even more, and make the original company contract debts to pay. I already saw many cases of this.

      But there is a penalty for doing this: People stop buying his stocks, and his stocks lose value. People stop trusting him and he won’t be able to do any more IPOs. In a country people cannot sell their participation with a click, they need to physically move out of it and go to another country, so that’s why redistributive Marxist systems work reasonably well when taxing people that cannot move so easily, such as the middle class. But they fail when trying to tax movable people, like the rich.

      About making redistribution morally abhorrent, I guess that the standard method for doing it that worked is to attack it as Communism. But you might find out that liberals already think that Communism is a good idea, only hard to get right. When did we last see a Hollywood film which bashes Communism? I think that none in the last 20 years. But Nazism is bashed over and over and over into eternity. It is not a coincidence, liberal socialists are just a new version of Marxism. Personally I find the new Marxism worse than the old one. At least the old one was not trying to fully exterminate and replace the host population, they were usually happy with a body count of 20% of so. The new ones want slowly exterminate and emasculate 100% of us.

    • “… one voting block of shareholders cannot vote themselves stuff at the expense of another block of shareholders.”

      If they have coercive powers (e.g., of taxation), they certainly can.

      • True. Just like now. Unlike now, after enclosure such deformations of the system would generate immediate costs to those who enacted them, so at the margin there would likely be fewer such deformations. No guarantees, of course.

  2. I had a similar idea after hearing about Pound’s idea for a national dividend. It would certainly change the debates over immigration and citizenship. Now, as shown by our decreasing civic involvement, the rights and privileges of citizenship are less and less valued. With real money associated with citizenship, not only would citizenship be more valued, but, in our political discussions, completely different questions would be asked. Just think about seniors who vote with a pension or social security in mind. Everyone would vote with a similar mindset. About immigrants, one would have to ask now unasked questions: Will this immigrant dilute my dividend? Or, will this immigrant bring value or capital to our organization? Certainly, be charitable. However, know full-well what you are giving up in doing so. Charity is only delusion or being swindled if you don’t even know what you are giving away.

    The new system would help voters finally see the cost of their politician’s good-will.

    Also, it would seemingly resolve debates over welfare and other forms of assistance in another sense. The dividend functions as a form of welfare acceptable to both conservatives and liberals. Rather than call for more assistance, it would now become more sensible to call for either higher profits or less inflation.

    Has the idea ever been tried in actuality?

    Should you be allowed to sell your share? The benefits seem more pronounced if it is not allowed.

    • Should you be allowed to sell your share? The benefits seem more pronounced if it is not allowed.

      The benefits do not obtain if selling the share is not allowed. That’s precisely what we have today: Everyone has a share and there are no profits. You want high time preference people to sell their shares to low time preference people, so that the latter (and only the latter) vote… in proportion to the shares in which they invested. High time preference people still benefit… by having good government. Shareholders benefit by having good government AND getting dividends.

    • “With real money associated with citizenship, not only would citizenship be more valued”

      A nation is a spiritual thing, wrote Chesterton in Heretics, and plans to monetize the spiritual truly in the spirit of American libertarianism. But what has Reaction to do with it?

      • I don’t see how you would be monetizing the spiritual. You are monetizing an actual material share in the profits of the sovereign corporation. Doing so leads to, but doesn’t guarantee, good (or at least far better) government. Everyone benefits: those who sell their shares AND those who buy them. One’s spiritual belonging to a nation remains unaffected. In fact, if the nation is strengthened by such a plan, you might expect national loyalty to rise.

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  5. Depending on voters–even in a corporate environment–is a fool’s errand. Look at Hewlett-Packard, a corporation that has been appallingly badly run. The incompetent board of directors just won’t get voted out by the shareholders.

    I’m convinced that anywhere you see a vote, if you look carefully you’ll find the devil pulling strings.

    • Oh, to be sure. This is not a panacea. The electors would still be morally corrupt, and prone to error of all sorts.

      The only thing this reform would accomplish is that it would complete the feedback circuit from the success of policy to the interest of the electors. It would align their personal financial interests more closely with the general interest of the polis. This would give us a better shot at good government than we now have. I doubt however whether a perfection of that alignment is ever really possible.

      • Those who live off government today, whether elected, employed, contracted or on welfare, have their personal financial interests vested in tax revenue. The more profit made in the private sector, the more tax revenue the gov has to spend. Yet, we continue to see anti-private enterprise initiatives from these very people. Its almost like they value power over wealth.

      • Those who live off government today, whether elected, employed, contracted or on welfare, have their personal financial interests vested in tax revenue.

        If only. The root of the problem is that their personal financial interests are vested in *expenditures.* The more government spends, or otherwise meddles in – i.e., controls – our personal and business affairs, the more they profit.

  6. Shares would therefore be concentrated fairly quickly in the hands of the far-sighted – exactly the sort of folks best able to discern the policies most likely to increase the prosperity and virtue of society, and thus the value of their shares. This concentration of power would be a massive step away from the universal franchise, and toward a government of and by – and for – the most enterprising and virtuous among us.

    Not exactly. You’re equating the ability to buy shares with virtue when in actually its just wealth. I would point out, off the top of my head, that Pelosi, Kerry and Soros are all billionaires who could afford a lot of shares, and they know other billionaires which leads to…

    The second thing I see is a concerted effort to buy as many share as possible thereby directly buying control of the most powerful military and economy in the world. How do you prevent foreign government from funneling money to unscrupulous citizens in exchange for influence?

    • As I see it, the ability to buy shares is associated with wealth, but the desire to buy shares is associated with virtue.

      • Yes. But wealth, too, is generally associated with virtue, at least in societies that are not too corrupt. Tace for the time being on what “too corrupt” means.

        That said, even in a mostly corrupt society, the wealthy people who would form the buy side of the market for shares would still tend to be the most far-sighted of the lot.

      • Correct. But liberals and communists have no opportunity to reap near-term profits from good government. If they did, would they remain liberal or communist? At the margin, no.

      • But liberals and communists have no opportunity to reap near-term profits from good government.

        They and their organisations exist on government spending. How much more near term can it get? Cut spending to make gov profitable, and their careers disappear.

      • Yes. Their personal fortunes depend upon government spending. I am proposing that their fortunes ought to depend – at least partly – on government profits. There’s a world of difference.

    • Would it matter? If Pelosi & alia bought a ton of shares, would that not tend to increase their interest in good government?

      That said, there could also be an upper limit on the number of shares any natural person could own. Perhaps 1,000 shares. That would prevent undue concentration of power.

      • What is good governance depends on your point of view. If a selfish man could profit more by using deficits to funnel tax money into his businesses than from his dividend, which would he chose?

        You’re creating an oligarchy and assuming they will be moral.

      • There is always an oligarchy. The question therefore is always, how to get the oligarchs to be moral? Or, at least, more moral? The perennial question of politics, then, the basic question, is, who will watch the watchmen? Plato suggests that we breed a class of men who are so moral that they naturally want to serve the interests of the polis, and put them in charge. I suggest that such men are not reliably doable, in anything like the numbers you would need to govern a polis of any size. So what you need to do instead is give the electors some merely selfish motivation to do the right thing.

        Right now, the selfish man you describe is not even asked to calculate the cost/benefit ratio of corrupting the social system. Indeed, he simply cannot, because almost all the costs of such corruption are externalities; externalization of costs being almost the definition of a commons. Enclosing the commons internalizes more such costs, so that, at the very least, it pays the selfish man to consider them.

    • The second thing I see is a concerted effort to buy as many share as possible thereby directly buying control of the most powerful military and economy in the world.

      Of course if they do that they’ll run the price of a share to infinity. Making a lot of other people very rich, and themselves, relatively speaking poorer. I suppose Ben Bernanke has a printing press… but running his presses for this sort of operation is the last gasp of a pathetically weak government and everyone knows it… All bids of USD for shares of Sovcorp will quickly go unmet.

      But even if you’re right and Soros and Bill Gates buy up all the shares, then what? They’re going to go right on running the corporation unprofitably? So they can go on getting zero dividends and making the corporation a prime target for hostile takeover? Why? So that white people can go on getting disproportionately targeted by black thugs? So that services at the DMV can be as purgatorial as ever? So that cis-women can “legally marry” their undocumented cis-purple dinosaurs and serve as heroes in the military? No. Even the über-politically-correctards at AAPL know how to run a profitable corporation. They even manage to do so while smiling and pretending to care about cis-women.

      To review: What is broken is the negative feedback on the increase and centralization of power. It is broken because the rich and powerful can use their money to control government, who needs their money to buy votes to stay in power. Buying votes is inefficient–increasingly so, and in the limit you have the unproductive 51% living off the proceeds of the 49% who are now dis-incentivized to produce anything. The collapse will not go well.

      The corporate model formalizes this relationship between the rich and government, and puts them on the same page. The profit motive is far from ideal, but it at least a negative feedback. And in comparison to a positive feedback (i.e., “leftist singularity”) it is positively a virtue.

      How do you prevent foreign government from funneling money to unscrupulous citizens in exchange for influence?

      Well, once again, market forces do apply. What prevents China from buying up every share of AAPL on the open market? They don’t have a $100 quadrillion to buy them. But the markets for Shares of Sovcorp would probably be strictly regulated, even if only to verify the identities of buyers and sellers. I would guess that only people legally qualified to get shares could buy them. And, if all else fails, the punishment of any unscrupulous citizen found trading his bit of micro-influence for hostile purposes could be left up to the shareholders. (It was not for nothing that hangings were well-attended public affairs.)

    • The equation of wealth with virtue is pagan. It is as if Scriptures stopped at Proverbs.

      Medievals were more sophisticated with their notion of the wheel of Fortune.

      And are the poor not blessed?

      • Who drew an equation? Not I. A man may be completely virtuous and as poor as a mouse.

        Nevertheless a virtuous man is more likely to flourish in life, in every way, than a wicked man. Proverbs is after all still the Word of the Lord. The Gospels don’t supersede the Proverbs, they fulfill them.

  7. I have long been persuaded by this idea. Its is blindingly obviously true that a joint-stock republic is a better form of government than any now existing.

    • > Its is blindingly obviously true that a joint-stock republic is a better form of government than any now existing.

      The factors that make corporate governance better that state governance are:

      1. It is illegal, immoral, and socially unacceptable for the company to redistribute between shares, to favor some shareholders over others. This greatly reduces politics.

      2. Power is concentrated as much as possible, and delegated as much as possible. The CEO has all power, except that he can fired at any time for any reason or no reason. So anything bad that happens is his fault, and anything good that happens is to his credit.

      3. All and any officers of the company can be fired at any moment for any reason or no reason.

      4. Badly run corporations go broke and disappear.

      • The problem is, in the case of government, the shareholders make and enforce the laws.
        Would there be “golden parachutes” for legislatures?

      • The problem is, in the case of government, the shareholders make and enforce the laws.

        How is this a problem? Not sure what you’re getting at.

        There could be golden parachutes for legislators. Legislators could be granted 100 shares at the beginning of every term in office, or something like that, so as to increase their motivation to do the right thing as against their motivation to surrender to the temptations of corruption.

  8. The core problem is the same whether there is a universal franchise or a system of shares. Both can be manipulated by those with a natural attraction to power to the detriment of the participants. I like the idea of guiding the leadership class to better living through incentivized morality but, using the pyramid analogy, the base is where stability and trueness count most. It is the fertile field, not the commodity in silos. Providing its constituent schlubs and regulars with better incentives to improve their own ethics and demand similar effort from their social superiors would invigorate the whole system from the bottom up because they are the ones who can say “We won’t stand for this corruption (at the top)!” That sentiment does not work in the reverse– elites *depend* on corruption at the lower levels. The bottom set needs to drive the process of greater virtue: the counter-revolution is theirs (ours) and in the upper echelons there will always be some sympathizers to help and inspire.

    • Which of two enclosed virtuous oligarchies, otherwise completely similar, will do better financially: the one that rules a nation of foolish knaves, or the one that rules a nation of prudent, upright men? The question answers itself. If the oligarchy is able to connect these dots – and oligarchs are not stupid – they will do what they can to support virtue at the bottom of the pyramid. As Alan Roebuck has pointed out, our oligarchs today are busily promoting wickedness among the hoi polloi. Why shouldn’t they? Under our present system, they’ll profit handsomely from the increase of corruption.

      • Of two systems, otherwise totally equivalent – so that we are not blaming the system – which will do better, the one with a mostly virtuous base, or the one with a mostly wicked base? The question answers itself.

      • That the oligarchs do what they can to support virtue at the bottom of the pyramid is not at all evident to me. Giant proportions of modern profits are generated by (really dependent upon) a low-information public that is economically and politically useful in its present incarnation. Instead of encouraging virtuous betterment, these oligarchs are manoeuvering furiously to import millions more low-information units across our borders.

      • Right: the way the system is now set up, wickedness at all levels is rewarded and encouraged by our oligarchs; and both wickedness and the wicked promotion thereof by our oligarchs are encouraged by our laws. You are making my argument.

        That the oligarchs are now preaching wickedness tells us, not just that there is something wrong with them – no surprise there, right? – but that there is something wrong with the system design under which they operate, and from which they take their cues to what constitutes rational behavior. If the system were properly designed, then even wicked oligarchs would be more inclined to promote a virtuous society (including its expressions in oligarchs), for it is upon virtue that wickedness subsists. A dead raccoon is of little use to the flea; he wants rather a vigorous, nimble, and sharp-minded raccoon.

        A good society needs good men and good laws. Lacking either one, you are more likely to lose the other, as we have more and more done. You can’t fix one with the other, but to the extent you have one, the easier it is to obtain or preserve the other. The better the laws, the easier and better it is to be virtuous. The more virtuous men there are, the better and easier it is to enact good law.

        So, society is not just doomed no matter what we do. It is possible to establish a virtuous cycle. How can we be sure of this? Because you can’t run a vicious cycle such as our own on a system already dead. A vicious cycle cannot generate outputs that can in turn generate further work, further operation of the cycle, unless it can in the first place get to work on a store of virtue. And a store of virtue – of power, wealth, ontological capacity – can be amassed only by a virtuous cycle. Any other sort of accumulation of power, wealth, or ontological capacity is merely adventitious, like gold or coal lying unmined in the earth – it is, precisely, pre-social, in no way truly our own. Thus you can be pretty sure that a vicious cycle is running on busted circuitry, that once upon a time, when in its proper order, mediated a virtuous cycle.

      • The system we have is the creation of oligarchs past and present. It is the system that best reflects the values of those with the power to create and implement a system. Most of us have little say, and turning the system into a business won’t change that. Most shareholders don’t have a say in management. You will end up with “class B” shares of your government.

      • Would that matter, so long as the incentives were properly arranged – so that, i.e., dividends were a share of surplus revenues rather than, as now, of expenditures and special legal favors?

      • If there had been a lot less highly compensated, but still corrupt CEOs, if Bernie Madoff had been honest, if Enron hadn’t happened, etc., I might agree with you.

        For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Tim. 6:10

      • No one is suggesting that enclosure would usher in the Kingdom. Men would still be wicked. It’s just that the wicked men who give our laws – including their electors – would under the suggested reform have a direct pecuniary interest in doing the right thing for the country, rather than, as at present, having no such interest at all, or at most an interest so attenuated as to be considerable only to the very most righteous among them. A precious, precious few.

        Madoff, Enron, and the like are exceptions to the rule in business. In practice, the market swiftly punishes unethical business practices wherever they are not protected by the diktats of the state. The overwhelming majority of businessmen are trying to be as excellent as they can in every way. Sure, they fail. But they try.

      • “In practice, the market swiftly punishes unethical business practices wherever they are not protected by the diktats of the state. ”

        The diktats of state would be decided by your oligarchy, as they are now, with the exception that, if they perceive benefit, the hoi polloi will be more inclined to turn a blind eye to marally questionable behaviour.
        I’m not sure how to get my point across. I see this as promoting or legitimizing greed. I think it would make it easier for us on the bottom to excuse immoral acts by the government. While it may be profitable, I think you would inadvertently lower the morality of society. Trying to create a necessity for morality using technical means is bound to fail. Immoral people will not act in good faith for long, they’re immoral. Greedy people always want more money. Megalomaniacs always want more power. Thieves are going to steal. I think promoting their worst inclinations is a bad idea even if everybody gains in the short term.

        Think about the democrats today. They essentially bribe the electorate with welfare, obama phones, etc. the same process would now work for all 300 million US citizens. They could do anything as long as they can make the case for large enough profits. Now, our government has to come up with a credible threat to invade. They keep trying with Iran but nobody is interested. What if they could just go in and say, “lets invade Iran and get that oil, everybody gets $10,000!” “Patriotism” would be everywhere.

      • The diktats of state would be decided by your oligarchy, as they are now, with the exception that, if they perceive benefit, the hoi polloi will be more inclined to turn a blind eye to marally questionable behaviour.

        Roger, the hoi polloi are *already* inclined to turn a blind eye to all sorts of moral foolishness if they perceive therein a benefit to themselves. Right now, the only way the hoi polloi can vote themselves benefits is by increasing expenditures without increasing their own taxes – i.e., by steadily raiding the cultural fisc. After enclosure, the hoi polloi would still be able to do that, but they would *also* have the ability either to sell their birthright for a tidy sum (thus altogether eliminating their imprudence from the electoral calculus) or else – prudently – keep it and earn a share of profits on operations of morally upright and sensible policy. Whether or not the hoi polloi sold their shares, the electorate of shareholders that remained after the first few weeks of trading would be betting on the latter sort of profit – the kind you earn from good business practices and good government.

      • They essentially bribe the electorate with welfare, obama phones, etc. the same process would now work for all 300 million US citizens. They could do anything as long as they can make the case for large enough profits. Now, our government has to come up with a credible threat to invade. They keep trying with Iran but nobody is interested. What if they could just go in and say, “lets invade Iran and get that oil, everybody gets $10,000!”

        You cannot bribe people with bad investments because bribing them with good investments work better. But then, I don’t suppose that would be a bribe.

        And I don’t know how to break this to you, Roger, but oil trades on the open market. And no one gets a discount, even nations who invade others to “steal” it. The price of a barrel of oil is whatever its price is. And no one invades countries to “steal” anything, because it is almost always cheaper to just buy the damn stuff.

        War is bad for business.

      • “War is bad for business.”
        Not if your in the arms industry, or the uniform industry, or own a bank who loans money to the arms industry, or loans money to the country about to be invaded.. War has always generated enormous profit for a small group, there’s even a term: war profiteering.

        “And I don’t know how to break this to you, Roger, but oil trades on the open market.”
        And once you control the Middle East, you can sell it on the open market. Regardless of price, oil is the most precious resource of the industrial age.

        “You cannot bribe people with bad investments because bribing them with good investments work better. But then, I don’t suppose that would be a bribe.”
        The point isn’t that they bribe, its that most “plebes” are short term thinkers. They see what’s best for them today and don’t see that it damages them long term.

      • Roger, when you aren’t misconstruing the proposal (“forcing people to do the right thing”) you are inadvertently making arguments in its favor (“most plebes are short term thinkers”).

      • “Roger, when you aren’t misconstruing the proposal ”

        You’re right. I should have said, “since we can’t prevent corruption, graft and crony capitalism, we might as well accept it and get paid.”

      • Another misconstruction, my friend. It’s not “let’s accept malfeasance and get paid,” as at present. After enclosure it will be “shall we accept malfeasance and get paid, or shall we abjure it and get paid even more?”

      • “Roger, the hoi polloi are *already* inclined to turn a blind eye to all sorts of moral foolishness if they perceive therein a benefit to themselves.

        I don’t, and, I assumed, the readers of this blog didn’t. Seems like a Christian should point out and condemn “moral foolishness” not jump in bed with it.

        “vote themselves benefits”

        This is the root problem with the current system. I think the only benefit that should come from government should be good governance.

      • Seems like a Christian should point out and condemn “moral foolishness” not jump in bed with it

        Of course. How would that be different after enclosure? The main difference enclosure would make is that the trad and the Christian would have more agreement from everyone else about that than they now do. And those who are seeking justice, not for its own sake, buf for the sake of the money they will make from it, will in the first place increase the overall intention toward justice of the society as a whole, and in the second will learn better and better that justice and virtue are rewarding in and of themselves.

        I think the only benefit that should come from government should be good governance.

        But this isn’t the way the world works. It’s a complex system of dense causal relations. Neither good things nor bad are causal islands. They all have consequences. Good governance is good in part because it is simply just, true; but justice tends to prosperity and peace, and this is part of what makes justice good.

      • Roger, why do all the bad things you think will happen in a shareholder-run sovereign corporation almost never happen, and when they do they are rapidly punished, under the same system of governance in limited liability corporations? Seriously. What is so very different in the natures of sovereign versus non-sovereign business models that not only would the effects of similar governing structure not be the same, but that they will be almost perfectly inverted?

        That is the row you gotta hoe…

      • nickbsteves said:
        “Roger, why do all the bad things you think will happen in a shareholder-run sovereign corporation almost never happen, and when they do they are rapidly punished, under the same system of governance in limited liability corporations? ”

        In the current system, the corporations are subject to law enforcement. In a system where the shareholders are also the law enforcers, there is absolutely no over sight. That’s my concern on this front.

      • In a system where the shareholders are also the law enforcers, there is absolutely no over sight. That’s my concern on this front.

        Well, sure. That could happen. And Apple stores could be dim, dreary warehouses where people bring in their stuff for help, and have to wait for 5 hours just to get up to the counter and be told by some low functioning dimwit, “I’m off the clock at 4:00. That’s in two minutes. Come back tomorrow.” But Apple Stores are not like that, and gov’t run offices, with perhaps a bit of hyperbole, are! Having bad laws, or enforcing good ones capriciously or unfairly, is… repeat after me… bad for business.

        Al Capone couldn’t run a DMV as badly as most are run. And he’s dead.

  9. There are really two solutions: 1) Christ returns and wipes this clean; 2) install me as dictator. I’d be ruthless with the right people, I’d suppress the olijewchy, and I’d want to make a huge profit for myself and my minions! I promise I’d be somewhat indulgent of atheistic rightists. I’d bring the troops home, and let the Krauts and Frogs defend themselves. I’d answer to Christ. I’d crush Hollywood into dust. What’s not to like?

    I prefer number 1 but I’d do number 2 if I had to.

      • In your heart, do you thrill to a street fight with Reds? If yes, then yes.

    • You have not heard my idea of forming a private Christian military company, storming the beaches of some stateless hell hole, and setting up a benevolent dominionist theocracy to distribute beans, bullets, bandages, and baptisms to resurrect Christendom.

      • I had the same idea! It is clearly doable, if Fidel Castro conquered Cuba, a big island, starting with only 300 or so guerrilla fighters.

        But, there are some issues:

        1> There are not many doable targets nowadays, maybe only some small Caribbean islands. The commies and islamists also have the same idea, and actually field rebel armies in many countries. If it was a simple business we would hear more often of countries being taken over militarily, which we don’t. Even after years and years of civil war nothing is achieved, or a big power intervenes.
        2> Obama or Hollande would send their armies to wipe us out in a max. of 24 hours. I guess they would have multiple orgasms at this chance. The islamists were winning in Mali and got machine gunned back to the desert by Hollande recently. Do you think they would be any less agressive towards us?

        Nowadays with the globalized world the only way for a country to stay alive with a ideology completely contrary to liberalism is if the price to take it down is too expensive, like the cases of Iran and North Korea. And Iran was on the top hit-list of Bush.

  10. I foresee invasions for profit. In fact, I foresee a conflation of profit = patriotism.

    I doubt I will ever be sold on the government for profit idea, so I’m done commenting.

    • Invasions for profit, while deplorable, are far less wicked than invasions to lend to our “brothers” the benefits of “self-determination” under “democratic” governance.

      Invasions for profit are far rarer than invasions for ideologies… because invasion is expensive.

      • Roger you are trying really, REALLY hard not to get this, aren’t you? The voters of today under the current system agree to anything because USG offers them treasure–and doing so is bad for the long term treasure making capability in a business (i.e., sovereignty) which has historically been VERY profitable. Changing this status quo is precisely what Kristor’s post was about…

      • “Roger you are trying really, REALLY hard not to get this, aren’t you?”

        I get it. Create a system that rewards moral decisions. Trying to force immoral people to act moral, when they’re out of sight, is not going to happen. What will happen is that we will say, “Who cares how they do it, as long as they’re making me money. I gots to get paid!”

      • But Roger, the problematic situation you describe – “Who cares how they do it, as long as they’re making me money. I gots to get paid!” – is *already in effect.* It is working far more perversely than it should, because everyone in the system is now rewarded for getting paid for doing the wrong thing. I propose simply to pay people money for doing the right thing, rather than for the wrong thing. That’s all. If you are getting paid for doing the right thing, why, you are more likely to do it. No guarantee that you will, of course; we’re in the wrong universe for that.

      • But Roger, the problematic situation you describe – “Who cares how they do it, as long as they’re making me money. I gots to get paid!” – is *already in effect.*

        That 51% of the voters are to be paid, creates endless political struggle over who is in the 51%.

        If, however, we had a system in which 100% of the voters are to be paid, struggle goes away

      • I get it. Create a system that rewards moral decisions. Trying to force immoral people to act moral, when they’re out of sight, is not going to happen.

        The law does not make us good. But we won’t be good without the law. It seems your basic complaint then is human nature, and the only solution that will suit you is one that changes human nature. That puts you squarely on the side of Marxist ideologues with a supremely pathological case of Perfect: Enemy of the Good Syndrome.

        We’ve suffered two to four centuries at least of eschatological immanentizing. The reactionary must play the ball where it actually lays, and not where we wish it was.

    • rogerunited | May 8, 2013 at 9:22 pm
      > I foresee invasions for profit. In fact, I foresee a conflation of profit = patriotism.

      Before 1830, we saw a bunch of invasions done for profit. They invaded badly ran countries looted the rajah’s gold, and then proceeded to run the country well

      Ideological invasions, to bring people the benefits of democracy etc, generally result in the country being utterly ruined, for example our imposition of Aristide on Haiti.

      • Well, the Latin American experience says otherwise. There was also the Baltic crusades. It wouldn’t work nowadays, but it worked sometimes.

      • rogerunited | May 9, 2013 at 3:02 pm
        > You can enrich your empire by conquest, but you don’t make Christians with a sword. How did the British empire end?

        Bureaucrats can create a sand shortage in the Sahara.

        The colonialists created a highly profitable empire in which Christianity was rapidly spreading, due to the fact that Muslims did not dare give Christians a hard time, and the colonialists loaned Christianity their prestige, and welfare and do-gooder activities were run under white Christian auspices. Whitehall took it over in the mid nineteenth century, crowned Queen Victoria Empress Victoria, and proceeded to lose money and crush Christianity.

      • The East India Company, before Government intervention and the Hastings trial, was an atrocity, whose misrule led to the deaths of millions in Bangladesh alone. It was King George and his ministers that led to the better governance of India and the increased focus on missionary activity as a driving force for the Empire. In fact, the colonists often went native and engaged in polygamy. Furthermore, we know what unregulated economies look like. They involve every member of a household men, women, and children working 18 hours a day and eating food laced with the poisonous chemicals they had been working with. Thankfully Tory, yes Tory, M.P.s put a stop to it with regulations. Capitalism and all its associated evils is a whiggish position.

  11. There is an earlier version of Kristor’s scheme, “Distributism.” Hilaire Belloc concocted it and (supposing I recollect accurately) G. K. Chesterton was interested in it and wrote about it also. The basic premise of “Distributism” is that property is so good and the possession of it so conducive to prudence, that everyone should have some.

    • I have little doubt that an enclosed demos would be inclined to broaden the distribution of ownership of productive assets in the way that distributism proposes.

    • I’m not sure the ablest spokesmen of Distributism would countenance the effects of Enclosing the Commons and making the share of it a tradeable commodity. Those effects seem like they would be profound inequality. Nevertheless probably not as unequal as the effects of mass franchise democracy. So who knows?

      • Well, if you limited the number of shares that any natural person could own to, say, 1,000, ownership of the state would still be quite widely distributed. And it should be remembered that shares of the state would not be the only valuable property. A man could be very wealthy and still not own any state shares.

        Distributism does not in any case abhor inequality in any absolute sense, for this would entail the abhorrence of property per se. Distributism doesn’t want the means of production equally distributed, but widely distributed. To every man, three acres and a cow, or the equivalent. It’s quite Jeffersonian.

      • I’m having fun with some of the math on this. What would the value of a share be? Well, if USG was run like a business, can you imagine net earnings of $1 trillion annually? If you can’t then your imagination is pretty weak. So let’s take that $1 trillion (net annual earnings) and divvy it up to the 300 million share holders as a dividend. That’s a $3,333/yr dividend. So what would the value of a share be? Assuming 5% as an attractive yield, that puts the asset valuation of one share north of $65k. That would be a pretty nice gift to get on your 21st birthday.

      • Don’t forget growth of the revenue base. If it grew at 3%/annum or so, the total return would be about 8%, and the NPV at a discount rate of 5% at birth would be about $111,140.

        Also, this: if maximizing surplus revenue – not taxes, necessarily, but revenue of any sort – were an explicit policy goal, there is no reason why revenues could not be much higher than at present as a percent of GDP, without hurting growth.

  12. What if currency was issued this way too? Example: The government issues currency (without the Fed) according to how many citizens there are. Every added citizen results in the same amount of money being issued (like M3), and the opposite occurs when citizens expire.

    • Issuing currency this way would be way better than the way we’re doing it now, i.e., giving TBTF banks seignorage over what (eventually) will be worthless.

      The whole notion that the monetary base needs to expand at all, ever, for any reason however is dubious. Increasing productivity should drive prices down slowly over time. Burying money in your back yard should produce a positive return net of price deflation. You shouldn’t have to put money in the bank or buy sovereign or corporate debt or buy equities or gamble on commodities or derivatives of any of the above just to “beat inflation”. Inflation shouldn’t exist… and if it NEEDS to, then something very sinister is going on, and you’d better bet that you and I are not the beneficiaries.

  13. Pingback: What I’m reading about the political economy of violence and coercion, 9 May 2013 | vulture of critique

  14. Kristor,
    Have you been reading Moldbug?. His view of State and Property (which he defines as control) are wrong yet strangely appealing to reactionaries. I do not understand why. His views are simplistic enough.

    Also, I would take issue with your misuse of the word “rational”. Again, you seem to have picked the usage from atheist reactionaries. You write “… so that mere rationality impels every man to rape it as hard as he can, to get while the getting is good.”

    In fact, it would not be rational at all but animal behavior. Animals get while getting is good. They do not foresee nor evaluate the consequences neither do they judge the morality of the actions.

    • I have not read much Moldbug.

      I’m afraid we must agree to disagree about whether animal behavior is irrational. If it were – if it made no sense, vis-à-vis their circumstances, so that it was not rationally coordinated thereto – they’d all quickly die. And this goes for any coordinate system. To the extent a thing is irrational, it is weakened, in respect both to its actual existence and, therefore, its capacity to continue in existence. The maximum of irrationality is chaos, which is the zero of actuality. If a thing exists, then, it is ordered, more or less, and thus rational in the broadest sense – i.e., intelligible.

      Animals do not in fact uniformly get while the getting is good. They cooperate and protect each other. They share with each other; they sometimes share even with other species. Wolves and monkeys have suckled and raised human children. Many animals store food against the coming winter. That they do this instinctively does not at all mean that they do it irrationally. Instincts are not irrational. If they were, they would drive their host species toward extinction.

      Animals do not judge the morality of their actions? Guess you never had a dog, huh?

      Finally, it is not fair to say that a man is irrational, period full stop, who judges that it is best, all things considered that he can consider, to get what he can while the getting is good, and devil take the hindmost. The key qualifier there is “that he can consider.” No one can ratiocinate on information he does not have, and human ratiocination is subject to error. We are not God. That a man decides upon due deliberation to do x, when if he had been omniscient and immaculate he would have seen that it would have been better to do y, does not mean that his judgement in favor of x was *utterly irrational,* but rather, only, that it was neither omniscient nor immaculate.

      A man discouraged by the order of his society from considering the long term effects of his actions, or those of his lawgivers, is not thereby rendered irrational. Rather, he is rendered misinformed. The reform suggested in this post would encourage us all to consider more carefully the long term effects of our actions and policies. It would not increase our rationality, it would increase the scope and precision of our apprehensions.

      • Kristor,

        If you believe that moral laws apply to dogs, it is not useful to engage further.

        I would only note that devising technical solutions for social ills is what technocrats and progressives do.

        Also, you continue to misapply the word “rational”. Animal behavior is not irrational but non-rational aka instinctive. Irrationality applies only to humans.

        By Webster 1913 dictionary (I prefer it as being uncontaminated by modern sickness of meaninglessness), it means:

        1) Relating to reason; not physical; mental.
        (Thus does not apply to animals)
        2) Having reason, or the faculty of reasoning; endowed with reason or understanding; reasoning
        (Again does not apply to animals – in fact, instinctive behavior is, by definition, non-rational. Rationality involves judgment.
        3) Agreeable to reason; not absurd, preposterous, extravagant, foolish, fanciful, or the like; wise; judicious; as, rational conduct; a rational man

        None of these epithets could apply to animals outside fairy tales.

      • If you believe that moral laws apply to dogs, it is not useful to engage further.

        I meant only that dogs have a moral sense. They know when they have done wrong. They make judgements, decisions, and these decisions carry moral weight for them. They feel guilt and shame about their wrongs. Furthermore, there is a virtue possible to dogs, an excellence in the proper expression of their natures. There are, i.e., good dogs and bad, and this goodness and badness are real. This aesthetic evaluation of dogs is at root also moral: the good is beautiful, the beautiful good.

        Animal behavior is not rational in the Thomistic sense – they are not able to think about abstract concepts. This does not mean they do not reason at all, it means only that their ratiocination is entirely pragmatic and particular, rather than general.

        I would only note that devising technical solutions for social ills is what technocrats and progressives do.

        Those guys eat and drink, too. Should we therefore refrain from feasting? If deliberating upon the proper order of society is liberal per se then the Orthosphere is liberal. So is Plato.

      • Moral sense is a part of human reason. Thus, immoral acts are always irrational.

        Naturally, materialists exclude moral sense from rationality but this is no reason to follow them.

        Indeed, to commit an immoral act is, partly, to disregard to the long-term view for short-term. But to commit an immoral act is not a failure in intellect for morality is given as a set of Don’ts.

      • Moral sense is a part of human reason. Thus, immoral acts are always irrational.

        Immoral acts are indeed not perfectly rational. They are not therefore ipso facto perfectly irrational – are not utterly devoid of sense or reason.

        Naturally, materialists exclude moral sense from rationality but this is no reason to follow them.

        I didn’t. I never said “morality is non-rational.” On the contrary.

        … to commit an immoral act is not a failure in intellect for morality is given as a set of Don’ts.

        Do you mean to say that immorality is not at all a defect of reason? That morality has naught to do with intellect? I thought that your position was that, “Naturally, materialists exclude moral sense from rationality but this is no reason to follow them.”

      • Kristor,
        Animals, and that includes dogs, neither know anything nor do ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ apply to them.
        Right and wrong are abstract.

      • Bedarz, you’ve got a really tight, *really* abstract theory there: animals are utterly ignorant of everything, and can neither know nor do any wrong. I’m sure its parsimony and concision are very comforting. But it fails the epistemological test of adequacy to quotidian life.

      • > Animals, and that includes dogs, neither know anything nor do ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ apply to them.
        > Right and wrong are abstract.

        It is perfectly obvious that dogs know right from wrong, and I am inclined to believe we learned property rights from them, rather than them learning property rights from us.

    • Also, I would take issue with your misuse of the word “rational”. Again, you seem to have picked the usage from atheist reactionaries. You write “… so that mere rationality impels every man to rape it as hard as he can, to get while the getting is good.”

      The tragedy of the commons IS (and only is) that getting all you can is the most rational game theoretic behavior in certain scenarios. That’s the tragedy part of it. That’s the problem that Kristor and Moldbug and reactionaries and all men of good will everywhere are trying to fix.

      • Immoral behavior is rational only for materialists for whom moral sense is not a part of human reason. The purely instrumental view of human reason is NOT a traditional Western view.

      • But fishing, even overfishing is not per se immoral behavior. Heck, even removal of property without permission for a grave enough reason is not per se immoral behavior. Nor is my accepting a SS check or asking medicaid to pay my hospital bills per se immoral behavior. Nor, for that matter, is accepting a free obamaphone per se immoral behavior. You’re just question begging here.

    • Who says the government’s only revenue is taxes? There are tolls, fees, tonlieux, tariffs, etc. But this is a detail best left to the geniuses at IRS charged with telling Congress how to raise the maximum amount of revenue from the economy as efficiently as possible.

      • Anything I pay to the gov gets divided between me and everybody else whether they paid the same fees or not, while I get a cut of any fees somebody else paid that I didn’t pay.

        The only way for the gov to make money that’s not already ours is to get it from foreign gov (like tariffs or conquest) or to produce something of value by owning business.

      • That’s a whole ‘nother subject. Getting into the weeds of raising revenues and program expenditures is not something that can be tackled in this thread.

      • Unlike taxes, tariffs, tolls, tonlieux and fees are proceeds from voluntary transactions. They are what the sovereign takes in as proceeds from the sale of licenses to do business of a certain type under the authority and protection of his laws. They are not morally equivalent to taxes. Through most of American history, they were the lion’s share of Federal revenues.

      • I am not seeing the difference, all of the domestic fees are defacto taxes as far as the cost of doing business. I own a business and there’s no practical difference between mandatory taxes and mandatory licenses. (don’t get me started on the annual report I have to file with the State!) The proceeds are all redistributed under your system, much like my taxes today.

      • I’m in the same boat. But running a business is optional. Paying taxes is not.

        In any case, the fundamental objection you have here raised to government revenues – i.e., that they constitute redistribution – is not in dispute. I totally agree. That’s what we’ve got now. That’s what we’ll always have, so long as there is any sort of sovereign. The only question is whether the system is set up so that we redistribute our wealth to others and get good government in return, or bad. I prefer good.

      • Well, I wouldn’t want to cast the first stone. Let’s just say that IRS had lots and lots of very highly paid economists, lawyers and accountants. Very bright guys. I’ve read their stuff. They are not slouches, not by any means.

  15. No amount of technical tinkering in the machinery of government and constitution would go anywhere with what is essentially the moral problem–the vision that an individual carries in his head-the vision of the Good and it is this vision that any individual seeks to realize. All politics is a struggle to realize individual visions.

    You could write a most perfect 18C constitution but you still need a 21C judge to interpret it. And unless this judge appreciates the 18C America, that is his vision of the Good shares with the 18C vision of the Good, he could not it interpret it in its original sense. Thus, originalism is not a technical matter, can hardly be taught, but a matter of sympathy, and of a shared moral sense.

    • I think the only way to achieve a moral government is to put decisions in the hands of moral people, but I don’t know how to vet the morality of people on a large scale.

      • People who are moral will tend to have lower time preference and the ability to delay gratification, which are associated strongly with intelligence. Having lower time preferences and the ability to delay gratification and being intelligent will naturally ceteris paribus improve productivity and one’s ability to store wealth. Therefore, the best simple proxy for morality is income and wealth. It is far from the perfect system of “vetting” that Roger seeks, but it works a whole lot better than the status quo.

    • No amount of technical tinkering in the machinery of government and constitution would go anywhere with what is essentially the moral problem

      So does that work in reverse? If turning back “No Fault” divorce laws won’t help us, then “No Fault” divorce laws couldn’t have hurt anything to begin with. The divorce rate would be the same irrespective of the positive law, right? Earthly incentives do not matter then? Causality is an illusion? Positive law itself cannot possibly matter because it cannot make us “moral”?

      Morality doesn’t hide behind the metaphysical veil. It has real effects. Measurable effects. Effects on societies, which positive law anticipates and guards against. If “tinkering with the machinery of government and constitution” can help make us “less moral”, and obviously it can, then UNtinkering it can make us more moral. Will it make a society a nicer place to live? Yes. Is it enough to get us to heaven? We let God sort that out.

      • I’ve always thought that the high divorce rate of today versus the lower rate of “the days of yore” might be more about necessity. It is much easier to live as a single todat with modern appliances and machinery than in pre industrial society when daily house work took all day and making living was laboring dusk til dawn. It took teamwork if you wanted to raise a family.

        Laws only work to restrain our bad behaviour, as in “Thou shalt not steal”. Reinforcing good behaviour is possible, but only with incentives clearly tied to an individual action. You get to hold office IF you meet these morality requirements. That goes back to my previous comment about vetting.

        Nickbsteve’s comment that “the best simple proxy for morality is income and wealth. ” I have to disagree. I would add Jesus Christ and his apostles (except Judas) and all of the saints, were penniless. I know that’s extreme, but getting rich just requires dedication to getting rich. In the words of Fifty Cent, get rich or die trying.

      • I want to clarify my last comment.

        nickbsteves said,

        “People who are moral will tend to have lower time preference and the ability to delay gratification, which are associated strongly with intelligence. Having lower time preferences and the ability to delay gratification and being intelligent will naturally ceteris paribus improve productivity and one’s ability to store wealth.”

        I agree with this except that wealth, itself, is not a measure of morality. Lack of means to support oneself may be an indicator of sloth, but accumulation beyond basic means is a choice. A responsible person will work to produce enough to support himself and his family, but won’t necessarily become what we refer to as wealthy, maybe middle class. While people who accumulate fortunes will tend to be more money motivated and willing to put in the extra time to earn more and meet influential people who can further their goals. In short, they’re more selfish. Of course its a range from altruistic to selfish and there are exceptions and I am not joining Occupy Wall Street anytime soon. My only point is that material possessions don’t equal morality. Its easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

        I should also point out that there aren’t any poor people in Congress, today!

      • I would add Jesus Christ and his apostles (except Judas) and all of the saints, were penniless. I know that’s extreme, but getting rich just requires dedication to getting rich. In the words of Fifty Cent, get rich or die trying.

        There are of course, very tall women. And very short men, as well. Anecdotes do not make data. The relationship between morality and wealth is, at least partially, an empirical one. Who gets to heaven is the metaphysical one and not one in which positive law is going to be very useful.

      • Wealth and righteousness are not exclusive, but assuming wealth equals righteousness is wrong. A man can obtain wealth through righteousness (ie blessings) or a man can obtain wealth through love of money (the root of all evil).

      • In The Metastasy of Wickedness:

        … Prosperity, then, is a fairly good indication of virtue.

        There are to be sure in this Fallen world many ways to get rich by wickedness. Thus the fact that a man is rich is no sure indication that he is mostly righteous. But even ill-gotten wealth, such as that of the thief or gangster, is the product of a kind of virtue – a corrupted and ill-directed excellence, yes, but an excellence nonetheless …

      • OK We have different ideas of virtue, but I see where you’re coming from. My point doesn’t change, though. An excellent thief is still gonna steal.

      • An excellent thief is still gonna steal.

        That is tautologically true. But to be Bayesian about it: P(excellence|thief) ≠ P(thief|excellence).

  16. I agree with this except that wealth, itself, is not a measure of morality.

    I said “proxy” for wealth, not measure. Proxies are not measures, they’re more or less crude stand-ins.

    I should also point out that there aren’t any poor people in Congress, today!

    Heh! Well, I’m not sure there should be… but if you can’t get rich off being a congressman today, then you obviously got pulled from the shallow end of the gene pool!

    • I’m saying that looking at wealth is misleading. If you want to say that being able to support yourself without needing welfare suggests responsibility, I’ll agree. Doesn’t mean I want that person running this country, though.

    • It would change the argument from which party can make us the most money by sending favors – expenditures and rules – our way, to which party can make us the most money by governing prudently.

      • So, two parties arguing over the best way to make more money, leading to compromises that don’t work.

        I really can’t see the argument that this will make government more prudent. I would expect them to work it for the best opportunity to embezzle.

      • Think, now: on the one hand, as of now, you have two parties arguing over the best way to gut the fisc and bankrupt the country; on the other, after enclosure, you would have two parties arguing over the best way to manage it prudently, and provide for a flourishing, healthy, virtuous polity.You’re saying that you really see *no difference at all* between these two arguments, or between their likely outcomes?

        Embezzlement is what we have now. The system is set up to generate it. This is no worse than a system that is set up to reward prudence instead?

        It’s as if you were saying that you would just as soon deposit your savings with a bank robber as with an upright banker.

      • It’s as if you were saying that you would just as soon deposit your savings with a bank robber as with an upright banker.

        I thought this was the argument I was making?! That you’re talking about partaking in the bank robber’s spoils.

        The mechanism of corruption may be different, the outcome will be the same. You can’t make the fiscal rewards of good behaviour outweigh the fiscal rewards of stealing. Either way you have a multi trillion dollar economy and a privileged group who have the power to run it for their benefit. I don’t know exactly what they would do, but I would expect them to use the same mechanisms that corporate embezzlers use.

        You will say that if they are seen as being unprofitable, they will be voted out. I say they will blame it on their political adversaries, just like today. Today’s Congress has an abysmal approval rating, but over 80% got reelected. Everybody hates your congressman, but loves theirs.

  17. This just doesn’t work for me:
    More profit motive won’t make governors or governed any more virtuous, just more rapacious.
    Where is the revenue going to come from?
    What real difference would there be? Assuming the government finds a revenue source that isn’t us, then maybe we finance gov with that and get a little kick back every April?

    • OK, I think I now see the source of your difficulty. Right now we have a system where, no matter what they *say* about what they are trying to do (even to themselves), when push comes to shove all the politicians are financially rewarded for *expenditures* on their preferred stuff (i.e., on the preferred stuff of their lobbyist clients – including the constituencies of their parties). The more the government spends, the better they do. The more their actions bankrupt the country, the more urgent the calls that they do something about it by spending, and the better they do.

      After enclosure, politicians – and every other participant in politics – would benefit financially from the prudent management of the public fisc. Their benefit would be explicit: a share of the *surplus of revenues over expenditures.* Thus they would be rewarded for reducing expenditures where possible, and for improving the performance of the country. The better the ratio of performance to expenditures, the more they would benefit.

      It’s like the difference between slash and burn agriculture, or clear cutting in forestry, on the one hand, and careful husbandry or intelligent silviculture on the other. The first sort of “rip and run” strategy results in desertification. The latter sort results in rural France or the forests of New England.

      There is a fundamental difference between these two reward functions. Right now, profit to politicians increases with the ratio of Expenditures/Revenues. After enclosure, it would increase with the ratio of Revenues/Expenditures.

      • No, I get all that, I just don’t think it will work the way you think it will, but I apparently can’t articulate why.
        I’ll keep trying, though, I’m nothing if not stubborn.

        Political infighting will continue as normal guaranteeing poor performance. The blame game and obfuscation over who’s at fault will be just like the current system:

        No profit this year? “Well, clearly it Bush’s fault, he’s a crook!” “No its not, Obama is skimming!” ON and on, meanwhile, you’re not getting any of the profit and government intrusion continues apace.

        I said earlier, everybody hates your congressman, but loves (or at least doesn’t hate) theirs. They won’t vote their bum out, and you won’t vote yours out because they have convinced both of you that they are your best bet, just like today.

        “when push comes to shove all the politicians are financially rewarded for *expenditures* on their preferred stuff ”
        I think you’re working from the assumption that greed for money is the main reason they do what they do. I contend that they do what they do for power, and that power trumps money for the simple fact that if you have power, you can get money. Not all the rewards are campaign contributions, some are guarantees of future positions in government or other orgs. Its a game of connections, they do favors for future favors, and not just domestically.

        I really don’t know how else to put my objection. Corrupt people will continue to be corrupt. Their nature is destructive.

      • Oh, to be sure. As I said in this post, this is not a panacea. It wouldn’t make everything all nice and squeaky clean. All it would do is change the incentives at the margin. But that’s where the course of history is set.

      • This is a joke I saw;
        “Oligarchy: Its a big party, and you ain’t invited.”

        Trying to force your way into the party won’t work. If you want a piece of the oligarchy pie, you have to bring something to the table, and you can’t get to the table without connections. They aren’t going to give you anything. The system now benefits them, they work hard to keep the benefits coming. Assuming you could change the system, they still make the rules, they decide how the new system is implemented. They can change the rules if it benefits them. You are not going to get any more from them than you do now.

        All they need from you is a vote every few years, which they always seem to get regardless of what they did last term.

      • I happen to own a few shares of Altria Group (MO). I “bought” myself a way in. Does that make me part of the “oligarchy”? I don’t send in the proxy ballot they send me each year. My vote isn’t worth much. I actually hate to see them waste so much money on me (and non-voters like me). But it pays a great dividend. That’s all I care about. Do I think my interests are unrepresented among the major shareholders of Altria Group, whose votes do count? Of course not. Their interests are the same as mine: sell cigarettes and make money. That’s what Jim was trying to say, we’re no longer contending to be the 51% of the voters in a democracy who can put the screws on the 49%. Everybody’s now in the 100%… and every share is treated equally. There’s no one to screw.

      • nickbsteves,
        A government is not a business even of its run for profit. The responsibilities and mechanisms are very different.
        ” Everybody’s now in the 100%… and every share is treated equally. There’s no one to screw.”
        This is just naive.

  18. Alright Kristor, I went to bat for this over at my place, and now you we got some ‘splainin’ to do. Candide III says:

    After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia attempted to reallocate the capital of the nation by issuing shares in same (privatization vouchers) equally to all citizens. The results were instructive, but very much against the stated expectations of the reformers. Many of the greatest Russian fortunes were made in that time, as vouchers were sold or even traded for food by the sack or other necessities – say, a quarter-truckload of coal or a dozen square yards of slate, whatever was available to the “red director” managers.

  19. What the heck is wrong with you people? I stop reading for a few months and this has turned into a nihilist agnostic blog? The problem you clearly state is that the people are morally retarded and your solution is to change “the system” so their immorality doesn’t affect the outcome? Nobody in the comments has thought to challenge this premise? Hey people, it’s only “mere rationality” to rape the commons if you think “rape” is okay as long as you can get away with it.

    “Do we really want a political order that is interested in maximizing the revenues it harvests from us?”

    It doesn’t matter, you have missed the point of a political order. The point of political order is to allow you to be a better person. If you let the government extract revenues from you in order to do so that is a means to an end. (All governments exist solely due to the agreement of the people: the worst they can do if you resist is kill you and everyone you love, in which case they obviously no longer have any power over you.) If the people for whom the political order is designed — that’s us — have no concept of what it means to be a better person, if all they think about is material benefit, then your society is a failure and there is no systematic fix for it. If your society is made up of people who have no concept of morality, there is no transformation of that society that you can perform that will make it moral. (Edit: fortunately there is another society that already exists that is moral; it has an open borders policy and if you want to try to be a moral person, you can become a dual citizen and then, just by trying to be a moral person, transfer some of that moral knowledge, which in fact is that society’s main export, to this one. It’s got an interesting history and a few rules; they’re written down in some old book somewhere.)

    If you have a society of people who want to be moral, and their government is not providing people the means to be as good as they would like it to be, then they can change the political order in order to facilitate success. “People are being kept from realizing their potential to help others, because poverty prevents them from getting the education necessary to apply their talents.” Oh, okay, let’s fund some scholarships. But if people don’t have any interest in using their talents to help others, that’s not a funding problem.

    Kristor’s “solution” is pop-Nietzsche: some people are natural slaves, so let them sell their vote, their posterity, their shares off to somebody who can make better decisions with it. They’ll be better off!

    But will they be better people?

    In case you are confused: letting someone sell themselves, or a part of themselves, to you “for their own good” is a) not good for them, and b) not good for you either. And if they don’t have the moral fortitude to resist the offer, this does not absolve you from the moral consequences of making it. Voluntarily participating in slavery – and that’s what Kristor is proposing – is evil, in case you didn’t know that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying universal suffrage is the only possible means of good government, far from it. But if you think oligarchy is better, just say that, don’t pretend that you are going to let people sell their political rights to you voluntarily because then we’re all better off: you’re lying. If what you want is for the “commons” to be owned by people you think will make the best choices as to what to do with it, don’t say you’re going to distribute it to everybody and then “let them make their own choices” about whether or not to sell it to the people you want to have own it.

    Kristor thinks that the “fools” will sell off their shares and the “wise” will buy them and run the polity. It’s probably true that the “fools” will sell their shares, but what kind of wise man wants to live surrounded by a bunch of idiots? Men are born with some degree of capacity for intellectual understanding, but being “wise” is separate: a fool is a wise-man-to-be, and a man is wise who knows that even he can be foolish. Only a fool thinks he can make people less foolish as a matter of political policy. Put the wisest man in charge: if everyone else is a fool, he will be king of idiots. A wise man will tell the fool, “Hang onto your shares; I will teach you how to vote wisely in a manner which is good for society, and thereby benefit us both.” A wise man who knows how to make good political decisions is a far better neighbor than a fool who lets you make political decisions for him. Of course, this is exactly the system that we have, we are just terrible at making good use of it. So a large bunch of fools already basically sell their votes to a smaller bunch of fools who think that, because it makes them rich and powerful, they are getting a good deal. The problem is we don’t have very many wise men, and I’m certainly not claiming to be one, but if your solution to our collective failure to develop wisdom is to redistribute political power, you’re doomed to failure. You get a wise and moral government from a wise and moral people, not the other way around. You think, “If only the wise men were in charge, they could make everyone else less foolish,” but you’re wrong – you make everyone else less foolish by teaching them wisdom, it doesn’t matter who is in charge. Name the greatest teachers in recorded history: how many of them held political office?

    thomasbertonneau you ought to know better. Rerum Novarum is not about economics it’s about being better people. The reason for private property is not that private property makes men good, it is that it is necessary for the idea of private property to exist for you to be a good man, that is, to live by God’s commandments. Man’s nature is not only an animal nature. Property is not conducive to prudence: it just gives you something to be prudent about. It doesn’t make you prudent, it allows you to exercise the prudence with which you are already blessed. Do you think that a slave who is never allowed to own property can’t be saved? No, he just misses out on a complete human life, it doesn’t affect his soul. The immortal soul is always and forever first; not the material body or the material world.

    The invisible hand leads a rich landlord to distribute his harvest almost the same as if it had been divided equally at creation, sure, but the invisible hand is guiding the result of the distribution, not the cause. The who gets what, not the trade itself. The invisible hand doesn’t cause the landlord to decide to trade away portions of his wealth: he decides that. He could just as easily decide to eat what he wants and burn the rest. Why doesn’t he? Because he is being human: “it is in his power to exercise his choice not only as to matters that regard his present welfare, but also about those which he deems may be for his advantage in time yet to come.”

    The point of distributed productive property is that productive property is necessary for the society of the family, the basic building-block of human society, to exist. A father cannot be a father without providing for his family’s needs. If you depend on a wage to provide for your family, you don’t provide for your family – your employer does. I’m not saying working for a wage makes you a bad father, there’s nothing wrong with working for wages. Rerum Novarum is saying if your _only_ means of providing for your family is your wages, you’re _not_ a father; you’re not the one doing the providing: your employer is. Work for a wage by all means if that’s the better option, but if the plant closes down and you have no other possible option to feed your kids than to go on food stamps – you are no longer their father, the State is. (If that truly is your only choice, it doesn’t reflect badly on you: it reflects badly on your state.) It’s not about making you a better person through private property ownership, it’s about allowing you to be the person you already are trying to be: a good husband, a good father, a good and productive member of the community. So that if the auto factory closes, you can take the tools that you own and the knowledge that is yours to use and go fix cars for a living.

    This is the exact opposite of chopping up “the commons” into materially distinct units and letting people trade them. It is not possible in a moral society to trade your own productive property, because it’s yours. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s…” This doesn’t mean “Offer your neighbor a fair price for his wife and if he’s willing to trade her, go for it.” No – she is his. His family is his. His property by means of which he provides for his family is his. If you want to buy some produce from his property, that’s fine. But you can’t trade him for the property: that’s his means of supporting his family. You can’t buy a man’s means of supporting his family away from him, just as you can’t buy his family away from him. And distributed private property doesn’t remove the commons: you still have common resources, but the idea that “rational actors” don’t care about common resources is idiotic. Rational actors understand that their comfort and survival depends on the well-being of collective society and thus the careful management of common resources: only idiots think they can make it on their own. The “tragedy of the commons” is a lie; it assumes that all anyone cares about is themselves and nobody cares what happens to anyone else. That’s a tragedy, but it’s not in the distribution of property or lack thereof.

    Why are you all so concerned with the form of government anyways? Is the form of government preventing you from being a good person? Put it another way: is divorce court the only reason you don’t covet your neighbor’s wife?

    Oh, so universal suffrage + welfare is preventing other people from being good people, because they can just vote themselves benefits without any material cost. Right? So why don’t they just stop doing that? Are you denying them moral agency? How can they be expected to give up the SSI payments when working for a living would make them so much less? How can a man be expected to keep preaching love and acceptance while being stoned to death? It’s not the payouts or the stones that matter, it’s the choices people make. Nobody is forcing you to make the choices you make. Who is forcing them?

    The problem with enclosure-ism or neocameralism* or democracy or anarchy or any other “-ism” or “-y” is not that they won’t work, but that you’re lying to yourself about what the problem is. The problem is that people have no conceptual understanding of what leading a moral life — which means “being human” — means, and exhibit little interest in doing so. And most of us take no interest in trying to teach them, because we’re not so sure ourselves, or we don’t feel it’s our place, or we’re afraid of being stoned by angry mobs, or some of each. So to substitute for our own lack of faith, we come up with plans to build a better mousetrap. Which might be more efficient, though I doubt it, but at doing the exact same darn things we’ve been doing, so who cares? You can’t save souls by saving pennies. You think, “If only XYZ was in charge, or the system was PDQ, then the little mice would go through the maze and push the right levers and get the food pellets and we’d all be happy.” But that’s not what “happiness” means, that’s a lie you’ve been sold. They’re still doing it because of a Pavlovian response, not because they are consciously choosing to do the right thing: this is false happiness, not truth. Souls aren’t mice.

    * No offence to Moldbug, of whose writing I’m a huge fan even though he’s wrong, but neocameralism is a stupid word. First of all, most state governments already started as corporations: most of the original U.S. colonies started as corporations, the city of London was a corporation, and pretty much everyone else in the world is copying one of those models already. He doesn’t want USG to be run like a corporation, he wants USG to be run _well_. And “neocameral” doesn’t have anything to do with “corporate” anyways, Mencius made that up. “Neocameral” means “newly-chambered”, which would just mean that you want to change the way things are currently, which doesn’t describe what you’re proposing to change it into. “Formalism” doesn’t mean what he thinks it means either. A system of government is not an -ism anyways, that’s a philosophical denotation. A system of government is properly a -cracy or -archy, and rule by those who have the largest material interest in the state is called a plutocracy or plutarchy. But, well, that’s what we’ve got, isn’t it? So if that’s what Mencius wants, he can pour some scotch and celebrate.

    In fact “corporate” means “of one body”, and a properly-functioning corporation, one that is run well, functions as “one body” to achieve some end; in a for-profit company this is profit, in a political corporation it is to provide a just society in which people can live peacefully together and strive to lead morally just — that is, virtuously human — lives. Of course you can’t create this systematically: people have to want it. Form follows function; design follows teleology. If people want to make a profit together, they will form a for-profit company, even if it’s not actually profitable. You can’t select a bunch of rich people at random and declare them a “for-profit corporation” just because they collectively have a positive income. If people want to build a just society together, they will form a corporate polity and decide some means of governing themselves: might be a king, might be universal suffrage, whatever works for them, it doesn’t matter. You can’t push a bunch of strangers together at random, pass a few laws, and have a working government. A bad government can make a bad people, but you cannot make a good government out of bad people. Mencius thinks that because we have a bad government we live in a society where you can’t be safe walking down the street at night, but this is wrong: because we live in a society where you can’t be safe walking down the street at night, we have the government such a society naturally deserves — a bad one.

    • So, in short (but certainly not to oversimplify your undergirding point), internal leads to external, not the other way around. Agreed.

      “But some people are natural slaves.”

      True. Also true is that some people are naturally inclined to gamble. But does this mean we’re to exploit that weakness in some people in order to help fund the public education system, for example? I think not. But what I think hasn’t prevented it. At least in my state.

      • My point was somewhat elliptical. But I think Mr. de Johnstone understands me. His entire diatribe seemed to be based on the opposite assumption.

        The Christian faith tells us what to do with slaves, how to treat and care for them, e.g. It certainly doesn’t tell us to let them vote, nor anyone else for that matter. So why would anyone get their panties in a wad over who votes. Obviously too many people vote, and obviously voting is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner. That’s a system that will only work with angels in the electorate… whereas the corporate model of sharehold voting works pretty well in the real world today.

        As to the idea that laws and systems don’t matter because they don’t make us good, well I think this has long been asked and answered.

      • It is not in any case clear that enclosure is more likely to result in slavery than anything else that has been tried. By the Chevalier’s fairly strait criteria, most people are slaves right now.

        I should like to emphasize to the Chevalier that sale of one’s franchise does not by itself constitute utter impoverishment, so that one is thenceforth ipso facto a dependent slave, or wage slave. Shares of the polis are but one type of wealth.

        As to his utter rejection of any political reform (aside, of course, from such unprincipled exceptions as subsidized tuition, and the like), it is itself a type of political reform, in that it is a suggestion about how we ought to behave politcially. EA Burtt said, “The only way to avoid becoming a metaphysician is to say nothing.” But really it’s much harder even than that, for not even by doing nothing can one avoid an implicit metaphysical assertion. Acts as such presuppose some metaphysic or other.

        The same goes for trying to avoid politics. It can’t be done. Even departing the polis altogether for the eremitical life in a distant wilderness is a political act. For humans, to be is to be political.

  20. Pingback: Enclosure Revisited | The Orthosphere

  21. Pingback: The Metastasy of Wickedness | The Orthosphere

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