I’ve written for years about the coming Phase Change, such as the one that overtook the Warsaw Pact. Such social phase changes are mediated by preference cascades. According to Kevin Baker writing at Quora:
The concept of the Preference Cascade is credited to Turkish economist Timur Kuran. Glenn Reynolds described the idea in a 2002 op-ed, Patriotism and Preferences. In short, average people behave the way they think they ought to, even though that behavior might not reflect their own personal feelings. Given a sufficient “A-HA!” moment when they discover that their personal feelings are shared by a large portion of the population their behavior may change dramatically.
The boy who cried that the Emperor was naked triggered a preference cascade. The Fall of Late Classical Civilization (in Persia, the Levant, Africa, and Iberia) to Islam might have been due to a preference cascade. Ditto for the Bronze Age Collapse. Many collapses are due to preference cascades, including – obviously – financial panics. When the morale of a great army or of a whole nation suddenly vanishes all at once, it is due to a preference cascade. Great Awakenings and mass conversions are mediated by preference cascades.
The American Revolution happened because of a preference cascade. So did the French, and the Soviet, and the Glorious. All the great epochs began and ended with preference cascades.
Numerous commentators are interpreting the recent Brexit vote, the sudden rise of the European reactionary Right, and the Trump phenomenon as evidence of a radical rightward preference cascade.
If there were no borders between nations, that kept them from bleeding into each other, they would tend to assimilate. In the limit, and except for variations arising from climate and geology, they’d all be just the same. At that point, they’d have nothing of value to exchange with each other. Nor then would they, any of them, do anything better than any of the others. There would be then no such thing as comparative advantage. There would be no trade, properly speaking. Nor would there be tourism. There would be only transportation.
It would be cheap, perhaps, and perhaps efficient. But it would not be valuable. It would not, that is, be much good.
I’ve been writing the last year or two about tariffs, transaction taxes, tolls and tonlieux as just and fitting ways – and, indeed, economically efficient ways, Pareto optimal ways, ways that should gladden the hearts of Austrians and Chicago Scholars – for a sovereign to farm revenue from the domains under his sway. Implicit in all that talk of justice, fitness, optimality, and so forth, is the presupposition that the sovereign has the right to collect such revenues – that, i.e., it is not wrong per se for him to collect them, but rather, possibly, quite correct and proper, and true to the ontological and moral facts of the matter.
Notice then that collections of such transaction taxes are effected by free and uncoerced exchanges by his customers of something they possess for something the sovereign possesses. To put it bluntly, such revenues are collected from sales by the sovereign of something he owns: the control over who shall participate his realms, and on what terms. It is that ownership which confers upon the sovereign the rights of ownership, such as the right to transfer title, to sell, let, give, bequeath, rent, permit, tax – and by extension to exert any sort of control, rule, command, etc.
Homo economicus gets a bad rap, as being insensible of the finer things in life: love, charity, worship, beauty, and so forth. He is supposed to be interested only in profit for himself.
In fact, the notion is far more comprehensive. Included in the calculus of what is profitable to economic man is his evaluation of what is morally best, spiritually best, and so forth. We all weigh our decisions in this manner, balancing our desires to fulfill obligations, to meet duties, to care for our bodies and for those whom we love, to tend the garden, make some profitable trades, respond to customers, go to church, and so forth. Economic life is not about spending and getting money, it is about allocating time. And the question ever before each of us is always the same: what is the right thing to do now, mutatis mutandis? I.e., given my overall schedule of preferences for all the possible things that I could do – including doing nothing – what is optimal?
Homo economicus is often profane and wicked and debased and ignoble, to be sure; but only because he is Fallen, and then only insofar as he has not been baptized and converted to a new and righteous and truer mind, so that his preferences are still whacked by idolatry and falsehood and unbelief, thus queering and ruining all his evaluations. The homo economicus that people gripe about is miscalled. His true name is homo irreligiosus.
Tariffs are suddenly respectable again across a wide swath of the Right. Are they essentially at odds with free markets, ergo with prosperity, as others on the Right insist? Can a nation prosper that imposes them?
The minimum wage is in the news again as a putatively respectable policy option among some on the alternative right, in particular for Donald Trump, who recently said he’d be willing to consider the idea. It is an odd thing for him to have said, given his emphasis on the necessity of reducing immigration from the Third World.
Is the prevailing wage for entry level jobs too low to live on? That’s a way of saying that there is an oversupply of labor. So, don’t raise the minimum cost of labor; that will subsidize the oversupply, increasing and exacerbating it while reducing demand for US workers (and increasing demand for robots and Chinese workers). Instead, remove the artificial factors that generate the oversupply to begin with.
Market perfection requires internalization of all externalities, and enclosure of all commons (these are two different ways of saying the same thing). The last commons to be enclosed is the state. It must be owned, or all its operations will tend to social vitiation.
Realized market perfection entails feudal monarchy. As markets operate and seek the healing of their own failures, then, so will they tend toward feudalism – or, at least, in conditions of high trust and confidence, and of general competence, its cameralist approximate.
A tariff is a species of tonlieu. It is a fee collected by the sovereign of a territory in exchange for the privilege of transacting business within his domains. Some markets are more rewarding to merchants than others, either because of their prosperity or their lawfulness or their just laws – or all three, for prosperity is correlated to lawfulness and just laws. The more rewarding a market, the more a merchant ought to be willing to pay to play in it, and the higher its tariffs should be.
The explanatory buck must stop somewhere, or it will have no cash value.
Evil is conserved. Particular instances of evil can be ameliorated, to be sure. But this can happen only by way of a redistribution of the evil thus salved. Think of salve, applied to a wound. Better to salve the wound than not. But the salve and the salving impose costs. Resources devoted to healing – including the healing resources of the body – are lost, and cannot be invested elsewhere. When we salve and heal a wound, then, we have not reduced the suffering in the system of the world, but rather only spread it around a bit.
Evil is conserved. It can increase, as entropy increases. But it can’t be got rid of. Not even a little tiny bit of evil can be destroyed.