Monday, November 8, 2010

Choosing your Tyrant

Over at Troll Racials are Overpowered I made this claim
humans are not naturally free and perhaps freedom is never even possible. Not since we lost the ability to kill tigers with little more than rocks. Which is to say, never. Even then we worked together. Cooperation is such a lovely word. So I'm led to only this: choose your tyrant carefully, for if you do not pick one, then it will be chosen for you.

The word choice seemed to cause people to misunderstand, so I'll elaborate. The tyrant is simply outside control. Someone or something will always tell us what to do or reduce our options. This is inevitable. Nothing short of a god can be absolutely free. Even the libertarians are picking a tyrant, though they do not realize it.

We've seen the control of a priest, a king, and chieftan. These are old tyrants. We've seen social control, caste systems, and exile from the tribe to a certain death. These are old tyrants. More recently we invented, or perhaps finally recognized, the market. This is a tyrant, a form of control over our lives. It is the greatest of irony that we call if a free market, when it is no promoter of freedom.

Just as a socialist government may tell you what to plant, so will market forces. Oh you can defy the market, but you will pay a price, quite literally; not so different from the government, though it may take a higher price. That does not mean that the market is innately more free than the socialist economy. After all, the government could give more options and back up those options. And it could be representative or even direct democracy. Imagine voting about your wallet. The market has an equivalent of voting with your wallet, which sounds nice, but it is a poor substitute for democracy when one person may have a million more votes in his wallet.

Markets and governments will tell us what to do. They exert control over our lives. We cannot get that control back directly, except by becoming a part of the market and being the controllers of others. But government can offer a way: representation and regulation. Regulation is a way to indirectly take back some control. If we can vote for government and government can exert some control over markets, then we have gained some control over the markets, and in doing so become more free, as we will have gained more control over our situation.

This is not perfect. Regulatory capture is a persistent risk. Socialist regimes do not have a good history, due to some mix of implementation, circumstance, and unaddressed flaws within the idea of socialism. I'm not advocating a Soviet-style system, or even Chinese, or Venezuela. These were all destructive to freedom. But American socialism, this has worked. We are more free as consumers, more secure, when we can buy products with confidence that they will not kill us. With no regulation this would be a major problem, leading to what I call the trust trust: monopolies on trust. Those are for a future post. Here I only wanted to explain why we might choose tyranny, because it will inevitably happen, so it might as well be one we can remove or shape to our needs.

Related post: Producer regulation does not imply consumer restriction

After more thought I've seen that this post isn't done. Why do I allow for certain things to be illegal? These restrict my freedom! Security. Yes, we're always trading a little security for a little freedom. I'm willing to give up my right to kill to protect myself from the same. A libertarian might say that I should pay attention and protect myself. I'd rather not have to waste all my life struggling to keep a little bit more. Similarly, let the buyer beware is a philosophy that I find to be stupid. Is it worth the greater freedom to have to check the safety of anything I buy? I don't think so. Many dangers I could not even test myself, so I need some higher power to handle that for me, and I am willing to concede to that authority some freedom over what to buy. I'm willing to give up my exploding cars. Similarly, I give up my choice about which side of the road to drive on in return for greater security, based on the reduce chance of a head-on collision. Should we instead let the market decide? No. That would be stupid. The entire cultish devotion to markets as the solution to everything is stupid and dangerous.

Is regulation a slippery slope? Yes. It is. There isn't a clear distinction between sensible regulation and a nanny state. That's something we have to figure out as it comes. But to simply reject protection entirely would be suicidal. Literally.

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