Quotulatiousness

July 23, 2017

Canada won’t give up on supply management, for fear of Quebec backlash

Pierre-Guy Veer provides a guided tour of Canada’s supply management system, with appropriate emphasis on the role Quebec dairy producers play in keeping the anti-competitive system in place:

Spared by the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the Canadian milk supply restrictions are “in danger” again. Because of trade negotiations with the US and Europe, foreign farmers want better access to the Canadian market.

However, hearing complaints from the US about unfree dairy markets comes as paradoxical. Indeed, since the Great Depression, the dairy industry has been anything but free. It profits from various subsidies programs including “the Dairy Price Support Program, which bought up surplus production at guaranteed prices; the Milk Income Loss Contracts (MILC), which subsidized farmers when prices fall below certain thresholds, and many others.” It even came close to supply management in 2014, according to the Wilson Center.

But nevertheless, should US farmers ever have greater access to Canadian markets, it won’t be without a tough fight from Canadian farmers, especially those from the province of Quebec. Per provincial Agriculture Ministry (MAPAQ) figures, the dairy industry is the most lucrative farm activity, accounting for 28% of all farm revenues in the province, but also 37% of national milk revenues in 2013. “La Belle Province” also has 41% of all milk transformation manufacturers in Canada.

As is almost always the case with “protected” domestic markets, the overall costs to the Canadian economy are large, but the potential benefit to individual Canadian consumers for getting rid of supply management is relatively small (around $300 per year), but the benefits are tightly concentrated on the protected dairy producers and associated businesses.

But even though the near entirety of the population would profit from freer dairy markets, their liberalization will not happen anytime soon.

Basic Public Choice theory teaches that tiny organized minorities (here: milk producers) have so much to gain from making sure that the status quo remains. A region like Montérégie (Montreal’s South Shore) produced over 20% of all gross milk revenues in 2016. There are 23 out of 125 seats in that region, making it the most populous after Montreal (28 seats). So if a politician dares to question their way of living, milk producers will come together to make sure he or she doesn’t get elected. Libertarian-leaning Maxime Bernier learned it the hard way during the Canadian Conservative Party leadership race; producers banded together – some even joined the Conservative Party just for the race – and instead elected friendlier Andrew Scheer.

On the provincial level, all political parties in the National Assembly openly support milk quotas. From the Liberal Party to Coalition Avenir Québec and to Québec Solidaire, no one will openly talk against milk quotas. However, and maybe unwillingly, separatist leader Martine Ouellet gave the very reason why milk quotas are so important: they keep the dairy industry alive.

July 22, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture is “an unconstitutional abuse of government power”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At the Hit & Run blog, Damon Root reports on at least one US Supreme Court justice’s strong views on civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Justice Department will increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, the practice that allows law enforcement officials to seize property from persons who have been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime. “Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool,” Sessions declared. “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that.”

But civil asset forfeiture is not a “lawful tool.” It is an unconstitutional abuse of government power. The Fifth Amendment forbids the government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Civil asset forfeiture turns that venerable principle on its head, allowing government agents to take what they want without the bother of bringing charges, presenting clear and convincing evidence, and obtaining a conviction in a court of law. It is the antithesis of due process.

By ordering the expansion of this unconstitutional practice, Sessions has placed himself on a collision course with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As Thomas recently explained in a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case of Leonard v. Texas, not only has civil asset forfeiture “led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses” by law enforcement agencies around the country, but the practice is fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution.

As I described Sessions’ attitude in a post on Gab: “Asset forfeiture now, asset forfeiture tomorrow, asset forfeiture forever!” http://minx.cc:1080/?post=370736. The victims of asset forfeiture tend not to be the druglords or property tycoons … the majority are relatively poor and the asset being taken from them is often their primary financial possession. Druglords and tycoons can easily afford high-powered lawyers … poor people whose life savings have just been seized have no recourse at all in most states. As Senator Rand Paul said: “People who are victims of civil forfeiture are often poor, African American or Hispanic, and people who can’t afford an attorney to try to get the money that’s taken from them by the government”.

Megan McArdle points out that “civil asset forfeiture is […] almost the literal embodiment of that hoary old socialist proverb: ‘Property is theft’:”

Now, this may not seem unreasonable to you. Why should criminals be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains? And fair enough, except for one small thing: They can take your stuff without charging or convicting you.

Law enforcement agencies have often been able to keep the seized assets for their own use, which has given them a keen interest in generating new civil asset forfeiture cases. As Justice Clarence Thomas remarked, while rebuking his colleagues for failing to hear a case on this topic, “this system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.” (And indeed, abuse is rampant.)

Because of those well-chronicled abuses, the Obama administration in 2015 ended what was known as the Equitable Sharing program, which allowed local law enforcement to seize assets and then transfer them to the federal government, with the federal government passing back part of the proceeds to the local department. This proved an excellent way to get around state laws, including those intended to funnel seized assets into state coffers. The Obama administration very sensibly decided that it didn’t want to help law enforcement become a sort of freelance tax authority, and shut this practice down.

Now Sessions has revived it. “How is this conservative?” demanded an earnest liberal of my acquaintance. And all I could reply was that that is a very good question.

July 20, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Illinois Budget is a Mess

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 Jul 2017

This week on Words & Numbers, Antony Davies​ and James R. Harrigan​ tackle the disaster that is the Illinois state budget crisis.

Pro-tip: Don’t let it happen to your state.

July 19, 2017

Conducting business in DC isn’t like some stagnant backwater like NYC

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s no wonder that Il Donalduce‘s squad of family members and friends are finding all the quicksand in the DC swamp — there are rules of conduct inside the Beltway that you must know and obey to get things done:

The Trump family is no doubt canny about the dog-eat-dog landscapes of the Manhattan real estate lagoon. But when the Trumps arrived in Washington, as political novices they entered an entirely new swampland, with which so far they remain unfamiliar. Their transition down the coastal corridor is sort of like leaving a Florida bog of alligators and water moccasins and thereby assuming one is de facto prepared to enter the far deadlier Amazon jungle of caimans, piranhas, and Bushmasters.

Here, then, are some Beltway Swamp rules:

1) Improper Meetings. Always meet in his/hers jets, “accidentally” nose to nose on the airport tarmac. Style mitigates unethical behavior. When caught, claim the discussions centered around “grandchildren.” In contrast, never go to any meeting with a Russian anything. If one must meet a foreign official for dubious reasons, then a revolutionary Cuban, Iranian, or Palestinian is always preferable.

[…]

3) Opposition Research. The more outlandish and impossible the charge, the more it will be believed or at least aired on CNN. Rumored sex without substantial deviancy is not necessarily compelling (e.g., urination is a force multiplier of fornication). As a general rule, ex-intelligence officers-turned-private investigators and campaign hit men are both the most lurid and least credible.

4) Leaking. Assume that those who collect intelligence also are the most likely to leak it, the FBI director not exempted. The more the deep state recalls the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover, the more it exceeds them. Expect every conversation, email, and text to show up on the desk of one’s worst enemy—at least for a few seconds before being leaked to the press. The more a journalist brags on airing a supposedly smoking-gun leak, the less the public cares. In sum, leaks are more likely to be fabrications than improperly transmitted truths.

[…]

6) The Deep State. Signing legislation into law or issuing executive orders does not equate to changes in government policy. Assume that almost any new law or reform can be nullified by cherry picking a liberal judge, serial leaking, or through bureaucratic slowdowns by careerist and partisan bureaucrats. The deep state works with those who rapidly grow the government; it seeks to destroy those who grow it slowly. The most powerful man in Washington is a federal attorney. With a D.C. jury and an unlimited budget and staff, he can bankrupt most anyone with dubious charges, on the assurance that when they are dropped or refuted, the successful defendant is ruined and broke while his failed government accuser is promoted. The more conservative the target, the more likely his lawyer should be liberal.

July 16, 2017

QotD: The value of price controls in World War 2

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In World War II price controls [in the United States] were administered by the Office of Price Administration (OPA). I have been present at discussions where serious attempts were made to assess the OPA’s damage to the Allied cause, measured in terms of the equivalent number of German panzer divisions. The estimates tended to be large.

Steven Landsburg, The Armchair Economist, 2012 revised edition.

July 14, 2017

The Peltzman Effect

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The odd situation where increasing the safety of an activity by adding protective gear is offset by greater risk-taking by the participants:

In the 1960s, the Federal Government — in its infinite wisdom — thought that cars were too unsafe for the general public. In response, it passed automobile safety legislation, requiring that seat belts, padded dashboards, and other safety measures be put in every automobile.

Although well-intended, auto accidents actually increased after the legislation was passed and enforced. Why? As [Professor of Economics Steven E.] Lansburg explains, “the threat of being killed in an accident is a powerful incentive to drive carefully.”

In other words, the high price (certain death from an accident) of an activity (reckless driving) reduced the likelihood of that activity. The safety features reduced the price of reckless driving by making cars safer. For example, seatbelts reduced the likelihood of a driver being hurt if he drove recklessly and got into an accident. Because of this, drivers were more likely to drive recklessly.

The benefit of the policy was that it reduced the number of deaths per accident. The cost of the policy was that it increased the number of accidents, thus canceling the benefit. Or at least, that is the conclusion of University of Chicago’s Sam Peltzman, who found the two effects canceled each other.

His work has led to a theory called “The Peltzman Effect,” also known as risk compensation. Risk compensation says that safety requirements incentivize people to increase risky behavior in response to the lower price of that behavior.

Risk compensation can be applied to almost every behavior involving risk where a choice must be made. Economics tells us that individuals make choices at the margin. This means that the incentive in question may lead the individual to do a little more or a little less of something.

[…]

The fact that incentives reduce or increase behavior is an economic law: Landsburg posits that “the literature of economics contains tens of thousands of empirical studies verifying this proposition and not one that convincingly refutes it.” Incentives change the effectiveness of government policy and shape day-to-day life.

July 11, 2017

Norway’s experiment with inviting people to pay more tax than they owed

Filed under: Europe, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall reports on the results of a Norwegian initiative to encourage taxpayers who felt their taxes should be higher to voluntarily pay more:

It is a standard contention of our times that people really would love to pay more tax. The things they get in return from government are so wondrous that obviously everyone will be emptying their wallets to feed the diversity advisers. Norway tried this — they managed to raise an extra $1,325 in tax revenues.

That’s not bad, $1,325 per capita in additional tax revenues multiplied by the Norwegian taxpaying population is … oh, you mean that was the total amount?

This does not bode well for the general contention, does it?

What we have here is of course that classic economists’ point, the difference between expressed preferences and revealed ones. We’ll all say all sorts of things but the correct guide to what we really want is to watch what we do. Which isn’t, even in Norway in any large manner, pay more tax:

    Hammered by the opposition for slashing taxes and going on a spending spree with the country’s oil money, the center-right government has hit back with a bold proposal: voluntary contributions.

    Launched in June, the initiative has received a lukewarm reception, with the equivalent of just $1,325 in extra revenue being collected so far, according to the Finance Ministry.

It is possible to cavil about this a bit. It’s all rather new for example.

    The program was decried as a political distraction from the left-of-center opposition party, who said that if the government was really serious about making up for recent revenue shortfalls then it would go after multinational companies like Google and Facebook. Launched only this past June, the opposition has argued that the scheme already costs more than it makes.

Well, yes, they would say that too. Quite clearly everyone prefers it to be that person over there getting taxed, not little ol’ me.

You don’t have to be Norwegian to take advantage of this wonderful offer to give the government more than your share: that option has been available to Canadians for many years. Her Majesty, in right of Canada, would be happy to accept any amount you wish to donate. As Tim points out in the article, the US and UK governments also accept gifts in excess of tax owed.

Why there are No Genuine Local Democracies in the West

Filed under: Britain, Government, Humour — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 11 Apr 2015

From Yes, Prime Minister

QotD: The non-profit scam

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Oddly, another form of this non-profit scam exists in my industry. As a reminder, my company privately operates public recreation areas. Several folks have tried to set up what I call for-profit non-profits. An individual will create a non-profit, and then pay themselves some salary that is equal to or even greater than the profits they would get as an owner. They are not avoiding taxes — they still have to pay taxes on that salary just like I have to pay taxes (at the same individual tax rates) on my pass-through profits.

What they are seeking are two advantages:

  • They are hoping to avoid some expensive labor law. In most cases, these folks over-estimate how much a non-profit shell shelters them from labor law, but there are certain regulations (like the new regulations by the Obama Administration that force junior managers to be paid by the hour rather than be salaried) that do apply differently or not at all to a non-profit.
  • They are seeking to take advantage of a bias among many government employees, specifically that these government employees are skeptical of, or even despise, for-profit private enterprise. As a result, when seeking to outsource certain operations on public lands, some individual decision-makers in government will have a preference for giving the contract to a nominal non-profit. In California, there is even legislation that gives this bias a force of law, opening certain government contracting opportunities only to non-profits and not for-profits.

The latter can have hilarious results. There is one non-profit I know of that is a total dodge, but the “owner” is really good at piously talking about his organization being “cleaner” because it is a non-profit, while all the while paying himself a salary higher than my last year’s profits.

Warren Meyer, “The New Rich – Living the High Life Through Your Non-Profit”, Coyote Blog, 2015-09-29.

July 10, 2017

“Jane Jacobs was fatal to conventional wisdom”

Filed under: Books, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Reason, Sam Staley reviews Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring, calling it “Jane Jacobs in her own words”:

In her books, articles, and activism, [Jacobs] destroyed the 20th century urban planning groupthink and laid out a radically different way of thinking about cities and society — one that rejected the prescriptive and centralized approach that dominated the planning profession, and one that instead highlighted how decentralized, market-driven decisions lay the foundation for vibrant and sustainable cities.

A journalist rather than an academic, Jacobs worked regular gigs at Iron Age and Architectural Forum and contributed to popular magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s. By the time she took a leave of absence from Architectural Forum to write what remains her most iconic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs was already starting to acquire a reputation as a fierce critic of conventional top-down planning.

She was not opposed to planning per se. Indeed, she believed small-scale plans were vital to cities’ sustenance. Neighborhood parks were essential to urban vitality, for example, and their location required planning to be successful. But to work, planning — and governance in general — needed to be devolved to the neighborhood level, moving away from large-scale systems that concentrate authority and power. Jacobs was thus an ardent critic of regional planning and regional government. Regionalizing, or “amalgamating,” made city government too far removed from the governed.

[…]

During the 1950s and ’60s, Jacobs used her position at Architectural Forum to examine urban development and redevelopment. Though the magazine championed modernist city planning, Jacobs emerged as one of modern planning’s chief critics during her stint there. Her journey from urban observer to planning critic began, as Zipp and Storring point out, as she examined how buildings, and then cities, worked rather than how they looked or were designed to function.

In the process, she started to develop her critique. “Philadelphia’s Redevelopment: A Progress Report” (July 1955) reviews the city’s redevelopment plans for 10,000 blighted acres. The city avoided large-scale slum clearing — what economist Martin Anderson would call “the federal bulldozer” a few years later — but still targeted large swaths of land for redevelopment using “a busybody concern with what private developers will be up to next.” (It wasn’t all bad, though: She lauded the city for incorporating some neighborhood features that reinforce such institutions as churches, schools, and playgrounds.) Another Forum column discusses the difference between “pavement pounders” — planners who walk around cities and neighborhoods to get a feel for the urban fabric and dynamic — and “Olympians,” those who plan based on maps and statistics. Her appreciation for small businesses as the glue that holds neighborhoods together comes out in “The Missing Link in City Redevelopment” (June 1956), where she laments the tendency to think of businesses merely as storefronts or spaces, not as enterprises that also serve as social centers and community anchors.

QotD: The illusion of freedom in America

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Being a citizen in the American corporate state is much like playing against a stacked deck: you’re always going to lose.

The game is rigged, and “we the people” keep getting dealt the same losing hand. Even so, most stay in the game, against all odds, trusting that their luck will change.

The problem, of course, is that luck will not save us. As I make clear in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the people dealing the cards — the politicians, the corporations, the judges, the prosecutors, the police, the bureaucrats, the military, the media, etc. — have only one prevailing concern, and that is to maintain their power and control over the citizenry, while milking us of our money and possessions.

It really doesn’t matter what you call them — Republicans, Democrats, the 1%, the elite, the controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex — so long as you understand that while they are dealing the cards, the deck will always be stacked in their favor.

Incredibly, no matter how many times we see this played out, Americans continue to naively buy into the idea that politics matter, as if there really were a difference between the Republicans and Democrats (there’s not).

As if Barack Obama proved to be any different from George W. Bush (he has not). As if Hillary Clinton’s values are any different from Donald Trump’s (with both of them, money talks). As if when we elect a president, we’re getting someone who truly represents “we the people” rather than the corporate state (in fact, in the oligarchy that is the American police state, an elite group of wealthy donors is calling the shots).

Politics is a game, a joke, a hustle, a con, a distraction, a spectacle, a sport, and for many devout Americans, a religion.

In other words, it’s a sophisticated ruse aimed at keeping us divided and fighting over two parties whose priorities are exactly the same. It’s no secret that both parties support endless war, engage in out-of-control spending, ignore the citizenry’s basic rights, have no respect for the rule of law, are bought and paid for by Big Business, care most about their own power, and have a long record of expanding government and shrinking liberty.

Most of all, both parties enjoy an intimate, incestuous history with each other and with the moneyed elite that rule this country. Don’t be fooled by the smear campaigns and name-calling. They’re just useful tactics of the psychology of hate that has been proven to engage voters and increase voter turnout while keeping us at each other’s throats.

John W. Whitehead, “Don’t Be Fooled by the Political Game: The Illusion of Freedom in America”, Huffington Post, 2015-08-12.

July 6, 2017

British tram-train project is already 500% over budget and years late

Filed under: Britain, Government, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It was decided, at some point, to spend £15m to build a hybrid rail connection between Sheffield and Rotherham. It’s late (not too surprising) and over-budget (also not too surprising). What is surprising is just how far over-budget the project has gone: that initial £15m budget has now grown to an estimated £75m, and there may be no end in sight. Hannah Boland reports for the Telegraph:

Artist’s conception of the Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train. (Railway-Technology.com)

Transport company Stagecoach has won £2.5m in compensation from the Government after the completion date for the Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train project, for which it is supplying vehicles, was pushed back multiple times.

The National Audit Office (NAO), in a report released on Tuesday, said Stagecoach had claimed “prologation costs” and loss of revenue for the two-and-a-half-year delay of the government-sponsored project.

The scheme was approved in 2012, aimed at modifying train and tram infrastructure and buying vehicles capable of operating on both networks.

The Department for Transport had originally said it would be completed by December 2015, and would cut transport costs in the region.

However, Network Rail, which is undertaking the first stage of development, pushed back the deadline, first in 2014 and then in 2016, to May 2018.

The £15m budget originally agreed between the department and Network Rail has rocketed to £75.1m.

Tim Worstall offers some comments:

We hear ever louder cries, in both the UK and US, that government really must get on with spending billions, trillions even, on building out vital infrastructure — the problem with this being that government isn’t very good at building infrastructure. In fact, government is so bad at building infrastructure that there is a very strong argument to have it built by private economic actors. Yes, true, it’s entirely possible that the plutocrats will then profit from the public, even that only projects which make a profit get built, but we would have, given government’s record, more infrastructure for less money.

At least, that’s the lesson to take from this disaster with the Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train project. It is currently an alarming 5 times over budget and horribly late. Further, at this price it should never have been built. It is simply not possible that the value in use of this will exceed the costs of doing it — this is something which makes us all poorer […]

And here is in fact that cost benefit ratio [PDF]:

    1.0 the benefit–cost ratio for the programme when it was approved
    in May 2012. The business case was based on benefits to local
    transport users. The Department approved the project on the basis
    of the ‘strategic’ business case. Wider industry and economic
    benefits were considered ‘very uncertain’

    0.31 the Department’s estimated benefit–cost ratio – based on the
    local public transport case – as at October 2016

For any project, however funded and whatever it is, we need to have benefits higher than costs. This is simply because economic resources are scarce therefore we need to use them to add value. We have here a project where the benefits are one third of the costs — this is something which makes us all poorer. It should not be done therefore. And even after it was started once this fact became known it should have been stopped.

But it wasn’t stopped, of course:

It wasn’t cancelled for political reasons. It was felt that cancellation would lead to “reputational damage.” The way to read that being that once government has decided to do something not splurging the taxpayers’ money like a sailor on shore leave might call into question the right of government to splurge the taxpayers’ money like a sailor on shore leave.

July 4, 2017

QotD: Direct democracy and representative democracy

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Progressives generally are sentimentally supportive of direct local politics — they especially favor the ideals of the New England town meeting, where everyone who showed up had a say. The reason why this form of local government was generally abandoned is that it is simply too time-consuming for larger communities, and allows the motivated minority to capture control. Election of representatives was an advance which allowed voters to go about their own lives most of the time while exerting control through their representative, who had time to understand the issues thoroughly and vote in council in the best interests of the voters. Being in the 1% of local voters who cares deeply enough about an item to show up at a public meeting about it does not mean your feelings about it are more important than the views of those who didn’t show up; the once-every-few-years election is more likely to reflect what most voters want.

Jeb Kinnison, “Real-life ‘Hunger Games'”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-25.

July 3, 2017

QotD: Smartphones, the Internet-of-things, and social controls

Filed under: Government, Health, Quotations, Religion, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’d be interesting (in a gruesome sort of way) to see what Da’esh (or the government of Saudi Arabia) could do with a citizen score. Currently enforcement of public morality in hardcore Salafi Muslim states is carried out by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia, and other religious police in other states. As with all police forces, there is a cost associated with putting boots on the ground. If you have, for example, a modest dress code, you could go some way towards enforcement by feeding purchases of garments into the citizen’s score. (Buy too much of the wrong kind of underwear and you could be singled out for an in-person check by the mutaween. And heaven forbid they catch you streaming music from a western cloud service.) Signs of non-conformity could be punished indirectly: it’s a lot harder to resist ubiquitous peer pressure than it is to dodge external resource-limited law enforcement.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s Republic of Gilead subordinates women rapidly by taking control over the financial system. But that’s a comparatively crude mechanism. The more data you’ve got, the more tightly you can constrain your reward/punish metrics and the more accurately you can focus your oppression — and micro-focussed oppression minimizes the risk of generating wide-scale resistance. Everybody’s experience is different, isolated, locked inside an invisible cell with asymmetric walls that their neighbors can’t see. And if you can’t see the invisible walls locking your neighbours in, you can’t establish solidarity and exert collective pressure against them.

We are heading towards a situation where we all carry smartphones, all the time; where we need them to call a cab, or check a bus timetable, or unlock our cars, or pay for something. Your smartphone knows who you are, knows where you’ve been, reads all your correspondence, and hears everything you say. The discrete activity of placing a voice phone call is in the process of replaced by barking “phone, put me through to Sandy in Sales”, followed by rapid connectivity (unless Sandy is in do-not-disturb mode or talking to someone else, in which case their phone will take a message for you). With always-on recognition, your phone (without which you can’t really exist in an internet-of-things world) will track your mood and your pulse rate and possibly award you citizenship points or penalties if you respond to the wrong stimuli.

But that’s the nightmarish, dystopian grim-meathook-future version of citizenship scoring: a system that facilitates the pervasive enforcement of mandated behavioural standards and punishes quantifiable expressions of individuality. Nobody would vote for (or buy into) that! So it’s going to be even more gamified, to make it fun. You can see your score in real time, get helpful tips on what to do (or not to do) to grind for points, and if you’re thinking about doing something a bit naughty a handy app will give you a chance to exercise second thoughts and erase your sin before it is recorded. But that’s not all. Obviously you didn’t really want to date that manic pixie dream girl (she’ll murder your citizenship score with her quirky and unpredictable fun transgressions) but we can apply the magic of Affinity Analysis to look for someone more suitable for you — similar preferences, similar tastes, and most importantly a similar attitude to social improvement and good citizenship.

Now eat your greens; your phone says you haven’t been getting your five a day this week and if you keep it up we’re going to have to dock you a point.

Charles Stross, “It could be worse”, Charlie’s Diary, 2015-10-09.

July 2, 2017

QotD: Not (yet) ready for democracy

Filed under: Government, History, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The absolutely vital elements of a successful democratic component of government (note – component of a system, not the entire system): is that there be a literate population; a free and enquiring press; a well developed and just rule of law; and a tradition of give and take being acceptable to the society.

Tribal societies have none of these things. That is why democracies have consistently failed in African countries where tribalism is still the most important element. (In fact politics in some of these places is still largely a competition between which tribal groups served in the imperial militaries, versus which served in the imperial civil services. With very bloody competition between the two.) The fact that illiteracy is rampant; free presses almost non-existent; and the rule of law where judges are not beholden to tribal interests, or simply threats, doesn’t exist: makes democracy impossible to sustain.

Muslim culture has none of these things. A system where a woman’s evidence in court is one third of a man’s – and dhimmitude is recognized even if slavery officially isn’t – is unlikely to have these things. And for literacy, free press, or rule of law, see Africa, but doubled.

It is also possible to suggest that without a clear understanding of the logic of natural laws, you can’t have a democracy. The fact that Muslim scholarship specifically rejects natural law on the basis that Allah can cause anything, so there are no ‘natural laws’, means you cannot have these things. The reason the Muslim world lost its scientific supremacy of the 11th and 12th centuries relates specifically to their decision to turn their back on empirical evidence. Without that basic understanding, I do not believe democracy is possible. (In fact that basic approach helps explain why democracy is actually anathema to good Muslims, and why Boko Haram literally means ‘Western education is evil’!)

So the concept that an ‘Arab Spring’ could work in the Middle East is a sad indictment on the Western media and ‘intelligentsia’s’ failed understanding about how democracy works.

In fact the entire deluded Western project of attempting to impose ‘republics’ on tribal societies as part of post-colonialism, is an indictment on the western fantasy that republics are workable, let alone good things.

Let’s face it, no western republic, even in the most educated, literate, and rule of law abiding parts of the Anglosphere, has survived a first century without a collapse and or bloody civil war. The most ‘successful’ Western republics have included the American (see above), French (see above), Weimar (heard of the popularly elected Adolf Hitler?), Italian (50 governments in 50 years), Greek (how’s that brilliant financial planning going?) and Polish (are they on their 3rd, 4th, or 5th?). Those are the good ones. 90% of all republics ever founded in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, have collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, mass murder, or ethnic cleansing, within 20 years of being set up.

And that’s what we thought would work in the Middle East?

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s…”, rethinking history, 2015-09-19.

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