[FoRK] Time Asymmetry of Government: Terminal Stage Approaching

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Thu May 27 05:57:49 PDT 2010

Re: Jim's comments...

> What seems to be new in Ridley's book is the attempt to manufacture of a 
> sense of urgency about the problem. However, as the Wikipedia page 
> shows, these are old problems.

Straw Man Variant #1:  redefine argument to something easily refuted...

The post, if not Ridley's book, makes a more general case that should be neither controversial nor surprising:  "nothing (human) lasts forever."  This is particularly well-supported with respect to governments;  none last, and the bigger they are the harder they fall.  Even the British monarchy, one of the longer-running existing governments (in some sense) is no counterexample;  while the monarchy itself survives in a form relatively unchanged in quite a while, it is certainly the case that the British empire, while effective for a limited time at parasitizing most of the world, did not continue indefinitely in that mode.  The thesis of the post, which remains to be refuted or argued against, is that governments in general evolve towards a lethal (i.e. unsustainable) level of parasitization of their hosts.

Interesting, isn't it, how this echoes the sentiments of many of those who, some with clearly-expressed trepidation, founded our own particular government.

> A graph of government spending as a percentage of GDP over the 20th 
> century shows a leveling off starting at 35% in the early 1980's:
> http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/us_20th_century_chart.html
> The only blip is recent, and is due to the recession and the large 
> bailout bill. It should return to the 1980's onward plateau once the 
> recovery hits.
> This data does not seem to support a "metastasized cancer" hypothesis 
> for overall US government spending.

Straw Man Variant #2:  find some data and claim that it refutes an argument other than the one being made, whether or not it is sufficient even for that purpose.

A few responses:

(1)  "The only blip is recent" is clearly false:  there are blips associated with e.g. the previous two world wars.
(2)  The claim that the current blip is "due to the recession and large bailout bill" is 
  (a) tautologic in some sense, yet
  (b) unsupported by itself
(3)  The claim that it should correct "once the recovery hits" is a huge leap of faith.
(4)  Nobody but you claimed that the data could even be related to, by either supporting or refuting, the assertion in question.
(5)  Any time the slope of some trend shows up *even in log scale* it's worth serious consideration.

Worth digging in on the latter points.  It's sort of a "well, when Jesus returns and raptures all us good folk up to heaven..." sort of comment.  It seems to imply, Jim, that you think you understand why the current recession is occurring, that it is something transient and addressable via some means, and that those means are both understood and being attempted or at least could be attempted with some reasonable chance of success.

What Jim presents is then, IMHO, hardly "serious consideration."  Let's be a bit more specific and serious, shall we?

So, for the record, please explain to us:  why is it, in your esteemed opinion, that the present problems is occurring?  (Perhaps start by enumerating the present problems.)  Is it / are they not structural and endemic?  What actions may be, or are being, undertaken to correct the issue?  When will this recovery commence?  What are its mechanics, and why will they be effective?  IMHO, his smacks of kind of blind Keynesianism, yet not even as intellectually grounded as true Keynesianism:  a reactionary, populist, cartoon Keynesianism, "neo-Keynesianism."  (AFAIC, Keynesianism is a religion just as discredited at this point in time as Mormonism, but like the latter, it somehow persists despite all evidence contrary to its premises.)

I'm far more skeptical that our appetite for every-bigger and ever-more-active government, particularly with rabid activist appetites in Washington by both parties, can be effective in reversing our course of fiscal decay.  That the growth in spending is unusual --- only two prior instances even remotely similar, but in each case highly dissimilar in cause and with causes that were inherently limited in time ---is inarguable.  The causes this time around, hopefully clearly, are quite different.

Digging into your cancer comment:  let's say you have a tumor.  Upon biopsy, there are no immediately apparent signs of local malignancy;  however the tumors overall morphology is still somewhat concerning.  Your glib pronouncement is equivalent to a doctor, in such a case, saying "well, it appears to be benign now, so you're going to be fine.  No cause for concern, no reason to do any more comprehensive investigation or check for problems elsewhere or keep an eye on this."  

Clearly, an insufficiently vigilant attitude.


Re:  Russell and his insurance scam (in some sense no different from all other insurance scams):  I would place probability approaching unity that no form of America will survive intact for the next, oh, 13B years. ;-)  But I'm damn sure not going to pay you a premium in the meantime!  And even if the timescale we want to look at risk mitigation over is far more limited, it's (as Ken points out) highly unlikely that any insurer can survive the risks they are supposedly mitigating in such a  way as to make risk-mitigating or compensating net future value payout in excess of sigma premium NPV.

Short version:  all insurance is a scam, but insurance per se against existential risks is the ultimate scam. ;-)  As "Atheists for Animals After the Rapture" (or whatever they are called) has clearly realized... ;-)


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