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We No Longer Need Power

21 replies on 2 pages. Most recent reply: Nov 14, 2009 7:28 AM by Abhishek Gupta

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Jan Samohyl

Posts: 14
Nickname: asgard
Registered: Feb, 2008

Re: We No Longer Need Power Posted: Sep 14, 2009 2:32 PM
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> I didn't say Democracy depends on this. I was addressing
> the suggestion that "We No Longer Need Power".

The way I see this is there always is a power, but differently distributed. I didn't understand the original article in a sense "no planning or decision-making is required", but in a sense "let the power be distributed". So, in essence, we no longer need people having more power than others. This is ideal of democracy - it prescribes that all people should have equal power.

> > > 2. Most people are rational.
> >
> > They actually are quite rational.
>
> Scientific studies show this to be incorrect. It is for
> this reason there is game theory and behavioral game
> theory. The former being the mathematical study of what
> people would do if they were perfectly rational (it
> doesn't actually have to be a person) and the latter being
> the study of what people actually do in the corresponding
> situations.

Well, it depends on your definition of rational. I for example find the textbook (and economic) definition of rational quite irrational, and the actual human behavior more rational in certain aspects (I don't want to go into details here, but for example human behavior in the classic ultimatum game experiment can be explained quite rationally if you consider broader implications).

And I used qualifier "quite". I don't think people always act rationally, but they do more than people usually give credit them for.

> It feels good to believe this (I have in the past) but it
> doesn't hold up to scrutiny. But for the sake of
> argument, lets assume it is true. Then the for a pure
> powerless organization to work well, we must eliminate all
> manipulators, right? What's the plan? Put them against
> the wall and shoot?

I think this is again the "what I mean by no power" issue I mentioned in the beginning. But I don't think democracies (which by my definition have little relative power of one person over another) are powerless against people who cheat and so on.

> OK, well come back to this idea when everyone trusts
> everyone else implicitly. The problem is that the more
> trusting people are in general, the greater the benefit of
> violating that trust and the stronger the temptation.

Of course, you need something to support this trust. Trust cannot work blindly. I didn't want to go into detail in my original post, but you can observe that in societies, where people deeply trust each other (such as modern democratic societies), there is an elaborate support structure for this trust (also called social capital). For example, we can trust that merchants will sell us reasonable goods, because we have judicial system and various regulations to deal with cheaters. On the other hand, we don't trust politicians too much, because we don't have very powerful ways how to control them. These issues are discussed in detail in both books I recommended. Linus Torvalds summed this up nicely by saying "People can trust me [with the Linux kernel development] precisely because they don't have to trust me." To get this "trust" working in a society is tricky, but I believe this is decisive between success and failure. And every unequality of power undermines this trust, because, like Linus said, you can only really trust someone if you are not really dependent on them.

> What evidence? The only direct democracy I am aware of
> was a dismal failure and it was only direct if you ignore
> slaves and women. Are there any current direct
> democracies?

Direct (resp. semidirect, for practical reasons) is used extensively in Switzerland and couple of states in the U.S. And it works more than well. If you want evidence, just look into the book I linked to (for example, there are statistical studies that show that direct democratic laws to control budget spending will save 10-15% of the budget). I don't think Athenean democracy was a failure, certainly not by standards of the time (and looking from today doesn't really makes any sense, from our point of view is also steam engine a colossal failure).

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: We No Longer Need Power Posted: Sep 14, 2009 3:44 PM
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> For example, we can trust that merchants will sell us
> reasonable goods, because we have judicial system and
> various regulations to deal with cheaters.

The existence is proof of a lack of trust. For example, the new powers recently given to the FDA to help ensure food safety

> Direct (resp. semidirect, for practical reasons) is used
> extensively in Switzerland and couple of states in the
> U.S. And it works more than well. If you want evidence,
> just look into the book I linked to (for example, there
> are statistical studies that show that direct democratic
> laws to control budget spending will save 10-15% of the
> budget).

California is basically bankrupt. Without the federal government, it would be. The state government has recently had to issue IOUs. The cause of this because of the many ballot initiatives that have increased entitlements and decreased taxes over the years. A recent ballot initiative to undo some of those mistakes and make the state solvent failed. Their school system has gone from one of the best in the country to one of the worst because of ballot initiatives.

> I don't think Athenean democracy was a failure,
> certainly not by standards of the time (and looking from
> today doesn't really makes any sense, from our point of
> view is also steam engine a colossal failure).

You don't think taking on a disastrous war strategy that resulted in the enslavement of almost the entire army and the death of a large portion of the population from disease isn't an example of failure?

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: We No Longer Need Power Posted: Sep 14, 2009 3:44 PM
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> > For example, we can trust that merchants will sell us
> > reasonable goods, because we have judicial system and
> > various regulations to deal with cheaters.
>
> The existence is proof of a lack of trust. For example,
> the new powers recently given to the FDA to help ensure
> food safety

Should be: "the existence of regulations is proof".

Michael Goldman

Posts: 9
Nickname: keppla
Registered: Jul, 2009

Re: We No Longer Need Power Posted: Sep 14, 2009 5:36 PM
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> You don't think taking on a disastrous war strategy
> that resulted in the enslavement of almost the entire
> army and the death of a large portion of the
> population from disease isn't an example of failure?

Depends, for there are many examples for any given type of government with similar results. As an example for a representative democracy gone bad take the "Weimarer Republik", that ended in a war some scales larger.

Jan Samohyl

Posts: 14
Nickname: asgard
Registered: Feb, 2008

Re: We No Longer Need Power Posted: Sep 15, 2009 12:44 AM
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> The existence is proof of a lack of trust. For example,
> the new powers recently given to the FDA to help ensure
> food safety

As I explained already, you cannot really trust without some support mechanism. So the new powers are probably attempt to induce more trust.

You know, I see U.S. from the outside, and the general trust between people, for example businesses and customers, is still very high (even though it probably decreased in last 30 years or so) compared to my country.

> California is basically bankrupt. Without the federal
> government, it would be. The state government has
> recently had to issue IOUs. The cause of this because of
> the many ballot initiatives that have increased
> entitlements and decreased taxes over the years. A recent
> ballot initiative to undo some of those mistakes and make
> the state solvent failed. Their school system has gone
> from one of the best in the country to one of the worst
> because of ballot initiatives.

I am not that familiar with recent developments in California, but sounds awfully similar to my country, Czech Republic. And we are not direct democracy, and the entitlements didn't go to people, but to various companies connected to government (and the lower taxes enacted benefited mostly the rich). The next year we will probably face budget deficit of about 5.5% GDP (increase from usual 3-4% in the recent years). So, what's actually better?

Anyway, I think the budget deficits will be the norm for the next couple of years in all countries, because that's how the economic system works. It is very much dependent on debt. The debt accumulated has to go somewhere, and usually that somewhere is the government. The government may then either decide not to pay it at all (which would be my recommendation in the current financial crisis), or to pay it for many years from taxpayer's money.

> You don't think taking on a disastrous war strategy that
> resulted in the enslavement of almost the entire army and
> the death of a large portion of the population from
> disease isn't an example of failure?

As "someone else" already noted, there are similar examples for any form of government. I do not claim direct democracy is a silver bullet (that it never fails), but I do claim it is superior to other (known) forms of government. And the fine details can still take a lot of tuning.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: We No Longer Need Power Posted: Sep 15, 2009 11:54 AM
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> > The existence is proof of a lack of trust. For
> example,
> > the new powers recently given to the FDA to help ensure
> > food safety
>
> As I explained already, you cannot really trust without
> some support mechanism. So the new powers are probably
> attempt to induce more trust.

I think you are using trust in a inexact way. If you truly trust, you don't need anything else. That's like saying you trust your wife and hiring a PI to follow her. What you are talking about is not trust in each other but trust in the government and it's systems. Government and power are inseparable. A government without power is not really governing anything.

> I am not that familiar with recent developments in
> California, but sounds awfully similar to my country,
> Czech Republic. And we are not direct democracy, and the
> entitlements didn't go to people, but to various companies
> connected to government (and the lower taxes enacted
> benefited mostly the rich). The next year we will probably
> face budget deficit of about 5.5% GDP (increase from usual
> 3-4% in the recent years). So, what's actually better?

You don't understand. Other states are not in this predicament and where they are, they have dealt with it. California's population refuses to address the issue. They literally couldn't make their payrolls or pay their suppliers. Their bond rating is junk. The voters were presented with the choice of raising taxes, eliminating some entitlements or letting the state go bankrupt (in which case entitlements are gone anyway.) They chose bankruptcy. I won't be surprised if the federal government has to temporarily take some of the states authorities away. Seems only fair given the rest of the country will have to pay for their greed.

You said that these direct democracies control their budgets better but California has the worst budget in the country and it all goes back to their direct ballot measures.

> As "someone else" already noted, there are similar
> examples for any form of government. I do not claim direct
> democracy is a silver bullet (that it never fails), but I
> do claim it is superior to other (known) forms of
> government. And the fine details can still take a lot of
> tuning.

I didn't say any government is perfect either. The point is that large groups are subject to mob mentality. That's why individual rights and civil liberties are so important. There needs to be a balance between the people and institutions of power. Without both, things can get bad really quickly.

Abhishek Gupta

Posts: 2
Nickname: abkgupta
Registered: Nov, 2009

Re: We No Longer Need Power Posted: Nov 14, 2009 7:28 AM
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Power has its purpose. Elimination of power in pursuit of progress and abundance assumes absence of greed and self-interest driven behavior. A gross mistake. Open Conferences might be considered a collection of individuals with equal power for the most part. That is so until you have a participant waving a gun or ready to burn down a stall. An authority figure is needed to take charge and resolve the situation safely and amicably.

The need for power cannot be denied. What also cannot be ignored is its adverse impact on creativity and in soliciting active participation from those of less power.

In a good system, power stays invisible, intangible and serves as grease to the daily grind. That is until there is a disruption that is an outlier to the fluctuations of the daily routine - a violent incident, a natural disaster, a corporate theft, a brand violation.

Once the dust settles, the power - in a good setting - can again be distributed among participants to determine the best course of action for the long run. However, when at the center of the storm's eye not everyone is equally capable of making important decisions and more importantly able to manage the outcome of those decisions.

A decision is not inherently good or bad. What is more critical is how the consequences of any decision are managed to a desirable outcome.

More critical than eliminating centers of powers is to ensure systems that allow those centers to be held by people who know when to wield it and when to hold it. Those who seek power are rarely suited to wear it.

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