Political Theory

Imagining a Nation: Geoland Part I: Introduction and Ecology

“I cannot play on any stringed instrument, but I can tell you how to make of a little village a great and glorious city.” – Themistocles

Welcome to the beginning of this series where I shall endeavour to imagine a new nation: The city state of Geoland. At the death of the Enlightenment, I shall strive to build a new nation on Enlightenment values. Values more immune from corruption and degradation.

Before I begin, I shall state that this is not a utopia. It’s not even my utopia (which would involve a pre-industrial island, wild game, a temple, a large library, thatched huts, fresh, raw goat’s milk, tropical fruits, surfable waves, many beautiful women…pardon me, my imagination gets too enthusiastic on occasion). Again I say this is not a utopia. If someone tells you they are building a utopia with human beings, you should run as far as possible in the other direction. That person does not understand human nature. If you desire to see a communist utopia, a place with no inequality, no injustice, no jealousy: visit a graveyard. That is what utopias soon become.

However, I do believe a country can be built that is more just, more prosperous, and more liveable for all its citizens than any society today running at large scale. I feel, deep in my marrow, that civilisation once more has a yearning, a great lust, to visit a terrible destruction upon itself within the next decade. And only a better system can prevent such chaos (though I concede (and hope) that better technology may somewhat delay the reckoning and allow for better systems to develop).

This new nation will largely be based on the principles developed by Henry George (from Thomas Paine and even further back), and to a lesser extent on FA Hayek’s economic principles, and also Aristotle’s concept of a “mixed polity” (also known as a system of checks and balances).

This nation will, I hope, be a place where all citizens and guests can expect just treatment, a place more kind towards its environment, a place where free market freedoms and conservationist concerns are united in one system that recognises the rights of all citizens to the natural resources and natural bounties of a nation, and yet does not plunder what citizens have built and earned with their labour, their knowledge, and their risk. Future series will delve into the systems of government, of monetary policy, of taxation, and of justice, that can make all this possible.

A nation cannot choose its ecology or geography to a large extent, but since Geoland only exists, for now, in my head, I can build it (and I don’t mean to dismiss ecology as unimportant, it may be a defining feature for how civilisations grow and for the character of the people a nation, but one must work with what is available).

Imagine an island, about the size of Manhattan, in the Southern Mediterranean, lodged somewhere between the Balaeric islands and Sardinia. On one end is a tall mountain.  A fresh water river runs down from the top of this mountain and cuts the whole island in half, the rest of which is just above sea level. I’m not sure if such ecology is even possible, but I like to imagine so.

As a man of largely Mediterranean stock, this island reflects my soul: the location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and the river cutting through it reminds me of the river that cuts through London, the city that raised me. Geoland sees British enlightenment values transposed onto a Mediterranean body.

In essence, the island is me.

Postscript:

I’ve heard it said that whenever someone offers a “third position”, it is invariably some branch of right wing thought. I don’t think you will find that the case here. Henry George referred to himself as a socialist, though that was before the term was so entwined with the idiotic theories and brutal realities of Marxist dogma. Hayek is considered a right wing or libertarian thinker, yet, by the standards of his Austrian school of economic thought, he’s definitely to the left or at least centre. Aristotle’s view of natural slavery is long outdated, and only extreme far right thinkers still adhere to that belief, but it will not be accepted in Geoland, only his idea of a mixed polity.

Read part II here

Book Recommendation, Literature

Brent’s Book Recommendation: Look Who’s Back, by Timur Vermes

“What irritates me most of all about these morning people is their horribly good temper, as if they have been up for three hours and already conquered France.”
– quote

Published in 2012, this German novel begins with a 56 year old Adolf Hitler finding himself in 2011 Berlin, somehow having time-travelled from his bunker in 1945. People take him as a brilliant Hitler imitator, daring and completely devoted to his art and give him a chance on TV. Written in a first person Hitler perspective, this is far funnier than you might ever expect – a satire on modern day Germany, and Western culture at large.

The true terror of this comic novel lies in the likeability of its protagonist. If you’re not careful you may find yourself rooting for the Führer as he struggles to save Germany from the horrors of democracy. A prescient novel several years ahead of its time.
Political Theory

Communist Money

“…the instability of the capitalist economy and the growth of government are wholly due to governments denying free enterprise the right to supply the good money it needs…”

– F.A. Hayek

 

Money is the lifeblood of the “free market”, but it is not free. The government monopolisation of money is one of the prime factors that has driven the Western world to its greatest levels of inequality since the Gilded Age. An inequality that is unsustainable and unjust.

In the Soviet Union, a central committee set the rules and times for all the harvesting of crops, of wheat, and the price of bread. This repeatedly led to massive shortages of basic foods through the existence of the Soviet empire. Not wholly the fault of the system, the harsh Russian climate takes part blame, and a free market system is also inefficient regarding crop cultivation (the cobweb theory offers a reasonable explanation why, beyond the scope here).

But a large reason for the difficulties was due to the misallocation of resources created by a centralised committee decreeing how the farming should be done, and how much reward the farmers and merchants deserved: Meaning they weren’t motivated to do anything beyond the bare minimum. And in all that time, with all that starvation around them, the Communist Party officials and their friends never suffered a lack. Only the average citizen suffered.

Most central bankers (including Federal Reserve officials (technically a private corporation, but a de facto central bank)) believe in some form of free market. Ask them why they’re capitalists, and they’ll probably tell you something about allocation of resources, or perhaps the history of the free market lifting people out of poverty. Ask them why the same rules of resource allocation don’t apply to money creation, and they’ll have a lot of smart sounding defences: we need a “lender of last resort” or “public utility” or something along those lines.

The truth is that the same rules apply. And just like in the times of the Soviet Union, the people close to the Party (the donor class and top government officials) never suffer from lack. The average citizen struggling for the bare minimum though: tough luck.

To be clear, I do not think central bankers are evil or part of a global conspiracy. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I do believe that if they could do something that benefited both the average citizen and the top of society, they would prefer to do so and would choose to do so. Just as the Soviet central planners would have loved to have been able to provide plentiful bread and meat at low cost for the average citizen (loyal ones at least).

But if forced to choose, they’re going to provide for the oligarchy first, those are their friends and family and they’ll suffer if they don’t prioritise the needs of the ruling class.

We see the results today, massive wealth inequality, with a big chunk of it at the very top being largely unearned.

Sadly, the only people who ever talk about this tend to be gold standard zealots and hardcore conspiracy theorists. If the gold standard worked so brilliantly, they never would have got rid of it in the first place, and reintroducing it now would likely lead to all sorts of mayhem, as it did when Churchill tried in Britain a century ago.

I must note that there is also private money in the form of debt and credit issued between private parties. “How the Economic Machine Works” by Ray Dalio is a good introduction to that side of money. But these private credits and debts are still issued in the currency created by government monopolies.

I’m unsure how to end this essay, so I’ll just state that I believe I have a reasonable and just solution and I shall explain this in the future, and provide a link here when that article is ready.

Book Recommendation, Literature

Brent’s Book Recommendation: The Master and Margarita

“You’re not Dostoevsky,’ said the citizeness, who was getting muddled by Koroviev.

‘Well, who knows, who knows,’ he replied.

‘Dostoevsky’s dead,’ said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.

‘I protest!’ Behemoth exclaimed hotly. ‘Dostoevsky is immortal!”

– Excerpt

 

The novel, written in the 30’s, was published 2 parts in 1966+67. This retelling of Faust sees the devil visiting Stalin’s Moscow with two henchman, inlcuding one the greatanimals of literature: a psychotic, talking cat named Behemoth.

 

Margarita and the Master are torn between an evil regime, and evil incarnate. This Russian classic supposedly introduced the phrases “manuscripts don’t burn”, and”second-grade fresh”, into the Russian consciousness. It remains an underrated classic outside Russia. If not my favourite novel, it’s at least in the top three.

 
 

Political Theory

Types of Inequality

“Calvin’s Dad: “The world isn’t fair Calvin”

“Calvin: I know, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favour?””

– from Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes

 

Three types of inequality exist: Just inequality, unfair inequality, unjust inequality.

 

Just Inequality: This exists when people have earned better or worse outcomes.

For example: Person A and Person B have the same job that they perform to the same standard and both earn the same wage. Person A works 20 hours a week and Person B works 40 hours a week. Person B gets paid twice as much money per week than Person B and becomes richer. The inequality between them is arguably justified.

 

Unfair Inequality: This exists when luck distributes unevenly between people.

For example: Person C wins the lottery and thus has more money than Person A and Person B. There’s nothing unjust in Person C’s luck, he didn’t put a gun to anyone’s head and stop them from buying lottery tickets, yet it seems unfair to many people that Person C has so much more wealth than other people, because it seems unearned.

Luck exists as a law of nature, but still it often offends our human sensibilities which tend towards a sense of fairness and expects some sort of even distribution in the world. The promotion of the idea of equality of opportunity is one way that societies try to counter unfair inequality.

 

Unjust Inequality: This exists when people are denied what they have earned.

For example: Person D completes a good job for his employer, but the employer refuses to pay him, and the system is set up so that Person D can’t claim what he is owed. Person D has less money than Person’s A,B and C, but this seems unjustified, since Person D has earned a better outcome than he has received.

 

Most people have no issue with just inequality, though hard-core Communists might still argue that Person A and B should be paid the same. And most people would object strongly to unjust inequality, though hard-core Social Darwinists might argue that Person D deserves to be ripped off if he can’t defend himself. The real debate people have is usually about unfair inequality: how much should it be corrected?

 

People often align on the side that suits them best: if they feel they have less luck in life, they tend to think unfair inequality should be corrected by human society, and if they feel luckier, they tend to think society has no business getting involved in people’s luck. Interestingly, most tax systems take the reverse approach: Person B gets taxed disproportionately heavier for working harder than Person A. Person C often gets taxed less, if at all (depending on the country) for his luck (with a similar result if Person C had a big stock gain instead of a lottery win).

 

Of course, life rarely fits so neatly into one of these boxes. Take scenario A from just inequality again: let’s say that Person A actually wants to work 40 hours a week, but he’s a redhead and his boss hates people with red hair and thus only hires him part-time. He’s still getting paid less for working less, but it starts to seem less justified, since part of the reason he’s getting paid less is for reasons beyond his control. Some unfair or unjust luck has been introduced and complicated the issue.

 

Inheritance is another example of a potential mix of all these types of inequality. It seems just that someone should decide who should receive their property when they die. But it also seems unfair that some people get left so much they haven’t earned, while others receive nothing. And lastly, some of that inheritance may well have been earned unjustly: how much should Bernie Madoff’s children receive? After all, they did turn him in.

 

How should a society account for all this complexity?

An eternal question with too simple answers that cycle around and around, each new age offering an old answer.