Why I'm not (quite) a formalist.

Or a neocameralist. Or a Jacobite. Or whatever Mencius is calling his political philosophy these days. What follows is my comment on his latest post:

In any case: not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. If the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us.

Whoa...slipping into the nirvana fallacy there. Our governments are disastrously bad relative to what? Perfection? Sure, but who cares. Considering the level of prosperity that Western civilization is achieving now relative to other periods, our governments look pretty good, if imperfect.

Like Kling, I have a problem with formalizing all governments into corporations. I think you are attacking the symptom rather than the disease. If we imagine a world full of formalized governments, it isn't difficult to imagine heinous dictatorships where the CEO finds it profitable to (quite literally) wall everyone in, increase taxes to a very high level, and then use force to guard the wall and collect taxes. Dead people don't pay taxes, sure, but a few examples go a long way toward quelling dissent.

The actual problem is a lack of competition in which the consumer of government services can leave the jurisdiction of their respective government quickly, cheaply, and easily. Solve that problem and government structures will improve. Note that Dubai, one of your favorite examples, is a city state attempting to be the financial capital of the world. Competition seems to be the driving force there.

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Mencius needs to learn how

Mencius needs to learn how to write shorter blog posts. If I wanted to read a book, I'd be doing that instead - and not be on the computer. As it is, I can get through maybe three or four paragraphs before I realize that what I'm reading isn't any where near as wise or witty as it would need to be for me to read a post that long.

Agreed. I skim most of

Agreed. I skim most of them. His newest one was about half as long as normal, but could still have been broken up into 2 smaller entries along with a bit of heavy editing. On the internet small, easily digestible posts are much appreciated.

Technology, not necessarily politics

Considering the level of prosperity that Western civilization is achieving now relative to other periods, our governments look pretty good, if imperfect.

We are technologically advanced relative to other periods. Our prosperity is largely a result of our technology. It's probably true that the average German under the Nazis enjoyed a higher standard of living than most populations in most periods, but that's not because Nazi government was more enlightened. It's because, despite the Nazis (certainly not because of them), Germans lived in an age in which electricity had been discovered, in which Pasteur had made his discoveries and developed his processes, and so on.

Weird....

...I thought I already posted my response. It must have been waiting for me to confirm when my power flashed. Fun stuff. In any case:

In my twisted mind "level of prosperity" really means "rate of growth." Oops. Your point is still well taken, time is a relevant variable due to technological growth. It is worth mentioning that technology continues to grow at a rapid pace, which seems to be evidence current Western governments are doing just as good of a job of not botching things as other governments in history. I could be wrong, however. If technological growth is exponential, cetarus paribus, I would be underestimating the institutional drag on technological and therefore economic growth.

Even if I am wrong, I think my larger point still stands: some of the best governments in history come from the 20th century. Very few governments in history have been able maintain economic growth, let alone begin it. These governments deserve credit at least for that. Whatever their faults, they pale in comparison to regimes like Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. Some day if we have some sort of formalist/libertarian utopia we might look back at the 20th century and say that it was the age of disastrous governments, but as it stands now, the 20th century looks like a mixed bag.

Whoa...slipping into the

Whoa...slipping into the nirvana fallacy there. Our governments are disastrously bad relative to what? Perfection? Sure, but who cares

No, awful relative to almost every single government that preceded the 20th century. It's hard to top the Communist or the Nazis.

the level of prosperity that Western civilization is achieving now relative to other periods, our governments look pretty good, if imperfect.

In my twisted mind "level of prosperity" really means "rate of growth."

Still, the rate of growth itself depends on technology. Our extraordinary growth during the 20th century was made despite of governments.

The rate of killing depends of technology

No, awful relative to almost every single government that preceded the 20th century. It's hard to top the Communist or the Nazis.

While we are holding technology constant, how much of that was bad government and how much was technology enabling bad government?

Technology can make really bad government possible

While we are holding technology constant, how much of that was bad government and how much was technology enabling bad government?

These are not mutually exclusive. In fact I would say that technology had a lot to do with the rise of the Nazis and the Communists. People have been making the connection between technology and nightmarish government for a long time. George Orwell's Big Brother state was an update of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon by the use of video cameras.

They are not mutually

They are not mutually exclusive, but they do run in opposing directions, which is why the sort of argument you guys are having here is tricky. Technology both increases economic growth and the standard of living, which makes living under bad governments not quite as bad, but technology also empowers governments, making bad governments worse.

My point exactly...

...but if we keep this debate up without presenting any evidence, it may not be worth having. I very well could be wrong, be the larger point is that Mencius' conclusion is nonobvious if we take the world as a whole and hold technology constant.

edit: grammar

What debate?

I'm not debating. I think we're just exploring the relevant factors.

Not only 'relative to what',

Not only 'relative to what', but 'relative to who' too. Think about the situation of slaves descendants, indigenous people and even women in general compared to their ancestors.