05 January 2010

An Alternative to Conventional Politics: C A S

The US is in a deep economic morass, and the smarter people have come to understand that more conventional politics will only make things worse. The federal government's problems and sovereign debt is bad enough, but the problems at the state level are even worse -- and more problematic to Joe and Jane Voter.

The federal bailout and stimulus were supposed to help, but there are limits to what politics can accomplish. Public sector employees are increasingly unionised, heavily supporting Democratic Party candidates and causes. Mr. Obama attempted to reward the states and cities under particularly strong union control, but has little to show for the $trillion spent.

Public sector unions are causing some serious -- probably intractable -- problems for many states. For example, public sector unions are killing California. Illinois' public employee unions are not doing that state much good either. Thanks to public employee unions, across the nation state and local pension plans are on a path for failure.   There are perhaps $2 trillion in underfunded pension promises at the state and local level.

State and local governments are never going to come up with that $2 trillion. The federal government doesn't have that kind of money either -- outside of IOUs. And even if the federal government bailed out the state and local pension funds, such a bailout would only encourage politicians and bureaucrats to play out the same scenario over and over again -- until no more bailouts were forthcoming.

So what is the big alternative to conventional politics? If the problems of modern politics have grown too complex for public planners to deal with, maybe they are working with the wrong paradigm. Eric S. Raymond suggests that complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory offers answers that conventional politics is fresh out of.
The answer is, I think implied by three words: Adapt, decentralize, and harden. Levels of environmental complexity that defeat planning are readily handled by complex adaptive systems. A CAS doesn’t try to plan against the future; instead, the agents in it try lots of adaptive strategies and the successful ones propagate. This is true whether the CAS we’re speaking of is a human immune system, a free market, or an ecology.

Since we can no longer count on being able to plan, we must adapt. When planning doesn’t work, centralization of authority is at best useless and usually harmful. And we must harden: that is, we need to build robustness and the capacity to self-heal and self-defend at every level of the system. I think the rising popular sense of this accounts for the prepper phenomenon. Unlike old-school survivalists, the preppers aren’t gearing up for apocalypse; they’re hedging against the sort of relatively transient failures in the power grid, food distribution, and even civil order that we can expect during the lag time between planning failures and CAS responses.

CAS hardening of the financial system is, comparatively speaking, much easier. Almost trivial, actually. About all it requires is that we re-stigmatize the carrying of debt at more than a very small proportion of assets. By anybody. With that pressure, there would tend to be enough reserve at all levels of the financial system that it would avoid cascade failures in response to unpredictable shocks.

Cycling back to terrorism, the elite planner’s response to threats like underwear bombs is to build elaborate but increasingly brittle security systems in which airline passengers are involved only as victims. The CAS response would be to arm the passengers, concentrate on fielding bomb-sniffers so cheap that hundreds of thousands of civilians can carry one, and pay bounties on dead terrorists.

Yes, this circles back to my previous post about the militia obligation. I’m now arguing for this obligation to be seen as, actually, larger than arming for defense (although that’s a core, inescapable part of it). I’m arguing that we need to rediscover CAS behavior in politics an economics — not because financiers or bureaucrats are dangerous or evil, but because even with the best will in the world they can’t cope. The time when they could out-think and out-plan the challenges of the day operating as an elite has passed. _ESR
This is actually an intriguing sketch -- although it needs a great deal of fleshing out. Al Fin political scientists have long argued that the US government is too large and too centralised to deal with the most important needs of its citizens -- protection from violence, fraud, and coercion. In fact it is the federal government itself that often represents the greatest threat to the US citizen of violence, fraud, or coercion.

De-centralising government, and focusing a citizens attention more toward local problems and obligations would be a helpful preliminary step toward better governance.   Empowering each citizen to defend himself, his home, and his locality, is another important preliminary step -- but one that will involve a significant change in psychology from mainstream acquired helplessness, psychological neoteny, and dependence upon authority.

Just as the USSR collapsed from its inability to command an increasingly complex society from the top down, so will the USA collapse if the current agenda of Obama - Pelosi reforms toward hypercentralisation of government are allowed to run their course.

Most university educated persons of our age have been academically lobotomised into a mindset of dependency upon a central authority.  That is the only way an absurd, counterfactual quasi-religion such as carbon hysteria could come so close to taking over much of the economy and politics of the developed world.  That is the only way that citizens of advanced western countries -- in the midst of one of the greatest demographic collapses in history -- could see their nations as suffering from overpopulation, and turn to anti-natalism as a remedy.   That is the only way that indigenous citizens of advanced nations could allow themselves to be held hostage to the unreasonable and hostile demands of illegitimate newcomers.  And it is the only way that productive citizens could allow themselves to be sucked dry -- to the point of being virtually incapable of supporting a family -- in order to support non-productive residents who are often illegal aliens, sometimes criminals, and almost never held responsible for their own actions.

Something radical will happen to change the current trends, regardless of how you vote in the next few elections.  There is no need for peak oil doom, no need for global warming doom, no need for eco-doom in any form.  All that is needed is for present trends of mis-governance to continue a little while longer.  Then, threads will fray and supports will snap apart.

You can prepare for that, if you understand what is going to happen, roughly speaking.  But there is no predicting how long the chaos of transition will last.  That makes a difference, in terms of preparation.

Al Fin historians and sociologists have been expecting this unraveling for a long time.  The election of Barack Obama is not the cause of it.  His election, along with the elections of large numbers of like-minded politicians at all levels of government, simply facilitated the excesses which accelerate the process.  Perhaps it is for the best, since it would have happened sooner or later.

But now, we need to face the facts that politics as usual -- regardless of which politician is elected or which party is in power -- will no longer be able to hold things together.  The forces of dissolution are too strong.

More on this topic in a later post.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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