The way to win is not to play

I was reading a post about one of my favorite punching bags, democracy, and saw a reference to this Bryan Caplan post, which I somehow failed to argue with because it was written back in 2007 before I became a full-time seasteading evangelist. Bryan says (responding to someone who maintains a faith in democracy even after reading his book):

What more would I have to do to shake your faith? Do I need a stronger factual argument? Do I need to go after democratic values, as in Nozick's Tale of the Slave? Do I need to build a new social network to compensate for the one I'm undermining, as Larry Iannaccone might argue?

In short, to use a classic salesman's question: "What would it take to get you to abandon democratic fundamentalism today?" Make me an offer, I'm all ears.

Now, I'm going to assume that Bryan's ultimate goal is increased freedom - he is asking this question because he believes that he needs to convince many more people of his thesis to increase freedom, not because fame or book sales are his ultimate goal. If this is the case, then I think he is falling into a very similar trap - another type of democratic fundamentalism. He is so steeped in the democratic worldview that he automatically assumes that in order to win, you have to convince lots of people of the merits of his idea (win an election of sorts).

Life for libertarians would be much more depressing if this were the case. But it isn't. One of the big selling points of seasteading is that we don't have to win any elections. We only need a small committed group, who can then go off and do things their own way. Instead of drawing from the tradition of democracy to structure itself, we draw from the startup tradition. As Paul Graham says in Startups in 13 Sentences:

5. Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.

Ideally you want to make large numbers of users love you, but you can't expect to hit that right away. Initially you have to choose between satisfying all the needs of a subset of potential users, or satisfying a subset of the needs of all potential users. Take the first. It's easier to expand userwise than satisfactionwise. And perhaps more importantly, it's harder to lie to yourself. If you think you're 85% of the way to a great product, how do you know it's not 70%? Or 10%? Whereas it's easy to know how many users you have.

(I'd throw in a quote about small groups of committed people changing the world, but I hate quoting charlatans)

Now, I'm not trying to deny that it's a good thing to convince more people of the problems of democracy. And I certainly don't begrudge fame and book sales to Mr. Caplan. I'm just saying, if the goal is to change the world, perhaps talking to the people who are already convinced by your arguments about how to construct a better alternative could be more effective than trying to get more votes in the idea election.

Democracy is a crappy incentive scheme - so how about we stop trying to convince the majority and start thinking about how the existing committed minority can act on their own. The Free State Project, while imperfect, is a great example of this kind of modern libertarian thinking that is rising from the ashes of decades of failure of the Libertarian Party. So, of course, is seasteading. I'd love to see more such ideas in the portfolio.

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If this is the case, then I

If this is the case, then I think he is falling into a very similar trap - another type of democratic fundamentalism. He is so steeped in the democratic worldview that he automatically assumes that in order to win, you have to convince lots of people of the merits of his idea (win an election of sorts).

There's a huge difference between thinking that the majority's opinion provides good policy decisions, and thinking that you need to convince people that your ideas are good to implement them. This is not believing in democracy, this is recognizing that public opinion *sadly* matters.

Seasteading is certainly not immune to this, otherwise you wouldn't be concerned with PR. There's a reason why you're not going to do human cloning, organ markets and nuclear power initially. A majority (yes) of Americans would ask their government to knock you off. Sure it may happen in the future, but that'll be when most people somehow recognize your independence / sovereignty. By saying : we don't need to change public opinion, let's do politics more like a free market, you already assume you've solved the problem.

It's also weird that you mention as an example against "democratic thinking" the free state project whose stated purpose is to obtain a libertarian majority in a state to democratically influence policy.

Yes markets unlike politics work by letting independent people / groups make choices they're responsible for, and this is seen in seasteading, secessionism, anarcho-capitalism, the free state project... But beware, when you're a hammer everything looks like a nail.

"Democracy" vs. the individual

Democracy is a crappy incentive scheme - so how about we stop trying to convince the majority and start thinking about how the existing committed minority can act on their own.

There's a huge difference between thinking that the majority's opinion provides good policy decisions, and thinking that you need to convince people that your ideas are good to implement them. This is not believing in democracy, this is recognizing that public opinion *sadly* matters....

Yes markets unlike politics work by letting independent people / groups make choices they're responsible for....

“[Democracy] is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men ARE equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word DEMOCRACY to sanction in his thoughts the most degrading ... of all human feelings....

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say, ‘I’m as good as you.’

[Y]ou thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that this statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist-measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says, "I’m as good as you" believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce.... What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners... ‘Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I – it must be a vile, upstate, lah-di-dah affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs – thinks himself too good for them no doubt.... If they were the right sort of chaps they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.’
* * *
Under the influence of this incantation [‘undemocratic’] those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever to pull down everyone else to their own level.... Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from it for fear of being UNDEMOCRATIC.... To accept [their unique gifts] might make them Different, might offend against the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group. They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals.”

Screwtape, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, (1959)

There's a huge difference

There's a huge difference between thinking that the majority's opinion provides good policy decisions, and thinking that you need to convince people that your ideas are good to implement them. This is not believing in democracy, this is recognizing that public opinion *sadly* matters.

There is a difference, but also a commonality. The standard defense of democracy rests on the false idea that public policy implements the goals of the voters. That good policy ideas will win mindshare and elections. If the way to change policy is not by winning mindshare and elections, that has huge implications for the strategy of activism. Like, you shouldn't worry so much about winning mindshare. Right?

Seasteading is certainly not immune to this, otherwise you wouldn't be concerned with PR.

Of course, but it is far more immune. To walk down the street of a town in the US smoking pot while being serviced by a hooker and holding my husband's hand, I need to convince tens of millions of people to see things my way. To do in on a seastead, I just need to convince hundreds or thousands. Sure, there are other things I can't do - but far, far fewer of them.

It's also weird that you mention as an example against "democratic thinking" the free state project whose stated purpose is to obtain a libertarian majority in a state to democratically influence policy.

True, I should have used a more specific term. But the general point still holds - rather than foolishly assuming that good (and/or libertarian) ideas will win mindshare and elections, the FSP says "Hmm, how can we concentrate our forces to actually influence politics with the people we have now, because we might not ever convince the masses".

Is this really what you mean to say?

He [Caplan] is so steeped in the democratic worldview that he automatically assumes that in order to win, you have to convince lots of people of the merits of his idea (win an election of sorts).

It's not entirely clear to me that this is really what you mean. Or, if it is, it represents a real departure from things that you've said in the past.

Your post makes it sound as if you've given up on the project of convincing people of the value of your ideas. But that's not what I understood you to be doing. After all, isn't the point of your endeavor to show people an actual example of a certain kind of freedom and then allow them to opt in if they like it or opt for something else if either they don't like what you offer or the experiment turns out not to work? If that really is your plan, then I don't think that you and Caplan disagree in the way that you say. Both of you are convinced that your policy will eventually win out in the marketplace of ideas.

I would have thought a better description of your disagreement with Caplan lies in your methods rather than your goal. Caplan thinks that he can use arguments to convince people of the truth of his ideas and then use that agreement to create policy changes. You think that it's more effective to carve out a place to create policy changes and then allow that example to convince people of the merits of your ideas. It's the same endpoint (most people are convinced of the benefits of libertopia), but a different strategy for getting there.

My worry is that your post has broadened the definition of "voting" to the point that the term is more-or-less meaningless. If "convincing a majority of people to agree with you" is just a commitment to voting, then it seems you, too, are committed to voting, or at least you are insofar as you believe that seasteading will in fact provide a concrete example that will end with lots of people changing their minds. But it's not at all clear to me that "winning in the marketplace of ideas" means the same thing as "winning an election." By the same token, a person's commitment to winning in the marketplace of ideas does not entail a commitment to voting.

I believe what Patri is trying to say is...

...liberty is a public good--my advocacy of liberty benefits everyone, not just myself, and I can't reap the full rewards of my efforts--and thus is it difficult to provide. Both libertarian voting and libertarian evangelism are trying to fight this public good on its own turf: trying to climb a "gravity well", if you will. A better strategy is to make a private solution to the public good: turn the dynamics inside-out and make liberty profitable.

Pragmatically, democracy

provides the ability to choose one's tax collector, not the avenue to eliminating taxes. The Free State Project might be fun but it will not increase every person's standard of living. As long as a state is a part of the US economy it, by itself, is a zero sum economy except as it is able to suck in outside funds.

The only way for a state to raise its internal standard of living is to operate more efficiently or compete with the other states more effectively.

250 years ago "state" universally meant "sovereign nation." "The United States of America" implied 13 sovereign nations under one foreign policy. The Free State Project should be a "Free the State Project," 50 sovereign nations (more or less ) under one foreign policy.

Patri, One can hope, but not

Patri,

One can hope, but not assume, that someone of influence might read Caplan's book, or at least his blog.

Assuming that to be the case, then perhaps this person, or better yet, persons, will be able to shade US (or UK, or EU etc.) foreign policy away from mindlessly trying to persuade, or force, other countries to adopt democracy.

Instead, the US can either be more standoffish, or if we simply must butt in, then the US can instead devote its foreign policy efforts to persuading countries to adopt capitalism to a greater degree than they already do, not to mention other ideas that enhance liberty elsewhere.

Surely I don't need to tell you, "Skipper Patri", of the merits of jurisdictional competition with regards to make the world more libertarian, or at least less tyrannical. As such, then Caplan's agitating for others to recognize the demerits of Democracy is not futile.

Equal standing before the law

>“[Democracy] is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated.

Equal standing before the law, obviously not equally treated.

How about a thread on seasteading? Have you ever been at sea on a bad day?

Question for Patri

Patri! I have in front of me the February issue of Wired (the one that masturbates all over how "wired" the obama white house is) And the article about seasteading brings to mind one big question I have for you:

If you or anyone else actually build a successful libertarian seastead where a whole bunch of idiotic western laws may be ignored, what would prevent the big western powers from decalring you "enemies of the people" or some such typical thing, and invading; thus confiscating all your property, seizing your accounts, and arresting you all?

Diplomacy, hiding nukes in

Diplomacy, hiding nukes in capitals; maybe nothing. Time will tell.

Or even if it doesn't go that far

what would prevent the big western powers from decalring you "enemies of the people" or some such typical thing, and invading; thus confiscating all your property, seizing your accounts, and arresting you all?

Even if some large power (or even a relatively small power if the seastead is nearby and has little or no military capability) doesn't go so far as to try to destroy or take over the whole seastead, it could send armed agents/police/soldiers to arrest people on the seastead and so to an extent impose its ideas on the seastead. Anyone processing drugs on the seastead would be a particular target, but you also might get efforts against people having sex in "unapproved ways", particularly with people under 18 if the seastead doesn't have an 18 year age of consent rule), or people (at least Americans) who renounce their citizenship and then have the revenue services go after them for taxes.