I look at myself in the mirror, I see slight bags underneath my eyes, and on my chest and beard I see a gray hair or two. I’m not an old man, I just turned twenty-three, but much has changed since I first started having political thoughts.
There was a time where I believed that I alone could change the world – I had a messiah complex, to put it mildly. There seemed to be so much suffering in society, yet little seemed to be done about it. What was needed was a revolution to push aside our archaic notions on where our civilization was heading. I spent many hours, thinking and genuinely believing that the time of action was around the corner.
Whilst never a communist, I harboured some affinity to the ideals. I believed that the main reasons such systems had never worked, was because it was always presupposed that people would work out of the goodness in their heart. Technology, I decided, was the key to all this, and if only our society could develop enough of it, we could reach a state of utopia. People would not have to work, and all would be well.
Now, I do still think that automation has the capacity for a society of such wealth and excellence, that none before it could compare. Yet, I’ve grown more humble over time. I have my doubts that I, or for that matter anyone, could artificially design such a society. Some of the most horrible crimes in world history have been made in the name of good intentions, and designing a supposedly better society: from the Maoist “Great Leap Forward”, which killed millions through starvation and scarcity; the Nazis wanting to rid society of what they deemed the dregs of humanity; or the acts of Gavrilo Princep wanting to rid the world of what he believed to be an oppressive system with the Habsburgs in the Balkans, which had WWI as an aftermath, just to name a few.
I think science’s early success in understanding mathematics, physics and the like has given us plenty of arrogance to go along with it. The Enlightenment had the detrimental effect of making us believe that everything was computable, and immediately understandable. This is fine and doable in contained systems where you can isolate the forces, and understand how they behave in relation to each other. It’s a different tale altogether when you’re trying to understand systems that aggregate on the input of each other, and even worse, may react to the information that has been computed so far.
It’s because of this, that I find it terrifying when throughout my three year degree in economics, I saw how little regard social planners seem to have for reality. They will confidently draw utility graphs, meant to maximise the gains of a society, whilst making thoroughly insane assumptions about human nature, as the starting point. Then, to make matters worse, people will use these models to make predictions about the future of society.
Perhaps this is why I’ve become more liberal, economically speaking. For all its faults, free trade is one of the few forces that historically helped lift billions out of poverty, and gives them a chance of achieving the highest rungs of society. The modern age has little use for nobility titles, and unearned privileges. That said, I doubt we’ll ever truly become a meritocracy, given that winning under this system, can cause a cascade effect wherein you keep winning, by simple virtue that you have won in the past.
This does not happen because the “evil” bankers have rigged the system, but out of simple preferential attachment theory. Say, for example, if you’re an author who just so happens to write a bestseller, by a stroke of luck, your next book is likely to become one as well. This is even assuming that your second book isn’t as good. You still stand a better chance, out of pure brand recognition. On the downside, only a tiny percentage of authors ever make any money whatsoever, or reach a medium sized audience.
Now, the question is whether regulators should do something in this “winner takes all” environment. In most scenarios, I believe the answer is a firm “no”. As we’ve established, we’re far too arrogant in our beliefs of thinking we understand the world. The markets, much like the weather, are systems that have trillions of input variables and meddling with any of them can lead to completely unforeseen events. Consequently, I believe that regulators, should err on the side of caution, and should mainly exist to limit the size and scope of an industry. So that when it fails, it doesn’t thoroughly bring society down with it. There should not be such a thing as “too big to fail” institutions, it’s dangerous to have them. As human endeavours will fail sooner or later, and thus we should embark on the business of running a state with eyes wide open. Instead, the modern world runs a deficit with eyes wide shut, and believing happy tales of rags to riches.
The precautionary principle should reign supreme in such matters. This comes in regards with the environment and the markets. In other words, the potential damage any individual failing within the system could possibly do, should be capped and strictly enforced. Other than that, I don’t think we should be messing with the natural balance things have, as it can potentially be very hazardous. Take the example of the Cobra Effect in British ruled India, where regulators wished to rid themselves of the venomous species, and thus they paid a bounty for each dead cobra that was delivered. Unfortunately, they did not consider the acute business sense of the average Indian, who started breeding them for profit. Once the government noticed this, they cancelled the program wholesale, and many of the people who had cobras in captivity, just let them go, as they had no use for them.
Needless to say, this well intentioned policy made matters several times worse, than if nothing had been done. Trying to radically alter the balance of things is nothing but hubris. Change has to happen slowly, so the system can adapt to the changes, or chaos ensues. Furthermore, when you consider most permanent social changes, they’ve mostly happened as a consequence of a change in the environment and availability of resources, not directly because of the political movement itself. Take slavery, as a perfect example, should it come as a surprise that it started being morally repugnant just at the point when technology was developed that was less human labour intensive, produced a higher output of goods, which necessitated a wider pool of consumers, and thus of freemen?
So I’m wary of regressives, touting that it being “the current year” is a good enough reason for doing something potentially dangerous and unbalancing. Facts, and not emotions, should guide our decisions in these matters. Reality does not care for dogma, it cares about whether or not you can withstand the blows it gives you. The world will beat you, if you let it, and thus we cannot let the insane yapping of a minority, bludgeon us even further into submission, with what is supposedly best for the rest of us, because the mathematical models, or the politically correct philosophy says it is.
I want to have the freedom to pursue the type of happiness that I want. I’m a thoroughly detestable person to some, and no matter how much I explain my stance to them, I will always be the villain. That’s fine, I wish them all the best, and hope they have a happy life – as long as they leave mine alone. I strongly believe in the “harm principle” as a means of running a society, yet freedom is starting to become a luxury, even in Western societies. Take the recent example, of a Scottish man being arrested for jokingly teaching his girlfriend’s dog to do the Nazi salute when he said “Sieg Heil!”. To combat supposed intolerance, society is becoming intolerant.
Collectively, we may not live a perfect life but, if you can read this post, you likely have access to more means and freedom than most people in human history. I wish it to remain that way, and I wish even more people to reach this standard, and surpass it eventually. Our current society allows for growth and progress to happen organically, without further meddling. Yet countless individuals out there wish to cut down the tallest flower, for a mistaken belief of equality. They wish to control you, to drag you down to their base level, as misery loves company. Under their rule, you shall not think, act or feel differently than them – or else.
Dramatic change in a society is usually sealed in blood. It tends to be a very nasty affair. I’ve seen violence in my time, I’ve seen people die. In their final minutes, once they’ve realised that there’s no escaping death’s embrace, people cling to life. They breathe the deepest of breaths that they’ve ever made, they think of all the things that were left unsaid and they wished they had one more day.
Life is for living, utopia is a place that doesn’t exist. In due time, we may reach something approximating it. But, we should never forget that on the way there, there will be wars, famines, genocides, and many other gruesome things. Many, and if we’re truly unlucky all people, will not make it to the other side.
As such, I don’t think we should be so quick to jump into uncertainty, especially considering that the present has been so hard fought for by an innumerable number of lives.