Consider the Most Important Facts

by CarlJ 6y22nd Jul 20133 comments

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Followup to: Choose that which is most important to you

When you have written down what your own fundamental political values are, the next step is to get an understanding of all possible societies so you can see which one is best. And by best I mean that society which comes closest to meeting your criteria of what you find most valuable.

So, to construct a model for thinking about this issue two things are needed. First, a list of all possible societies. And then some lists of those facts which would seem to rule out the largest number of possible societies as not being best; it would close in on the best society. The important point for this post regards the second list, but I still have a little discussion on the scope of the first list. If it seems obvious to, more or less, look at variants of economic systems, you can skip the next section and go straight to Facts which rule out and points toward certain societies.

A list of all possible societies – How long and exhaustive should it be?
I don't know if anyone has made such an exhaustive list. One might be constructed if one takes the list of economic systems (which regards laws, institutions, and how they are produced, and some culture) from Wikipedia and imagines that each of those systems may vary somewhat by different cultural norms. Not all cultural norms are compatible with every economic systems (objectivist virtue ethics with central planning), but every system would seem to allow some variation.This means 54 broad economic systems with, let's just say, ten broad cultural variations of these. So there's approximately 500 types of societies that people discuss today to take into account.

There's an obvious limitation to all this, which is that for every type of system, that system may vary in five million ways regarding certain laws. So, the Nordic model have changed a lot during the last 25 years. And if you take each law and consider a society of this type to be able to switch that on or off, there's, from that period alone, enough laws to be changed that the total combination exceeds five million. Many of the laws are however interdependent on one another, but there's still room for enormous configuration to ”construct” different societies.

So, maybe there are around a billion to a trillion possible societies. Now, it seems obviously clear that it is wrong to start discussing what, of two quite similar possible societies are better than the other – even if each society can have one million variations.1 That is because each are highly unlikely to be the best society.

If we can make one assumption, this will be much more easy. And that is that societies which we today would consider to be more similar than others would produce more or less the same results relative to other societies. There are some areas where every society would change drastically with just a small change in that area since it would lead to drastic change in the rest of the society. These areas are of great importance when we come to changing systems, but for now I assume these areas are too few in number to be of any importance.

With this assumption we can return to look at broad systems, because if societies of one category would seem to be better than other societies, we do not need to look more closely at that sort of society. If one type of mercantilistic society looks bad compared to a free-trade economy, any other type of the former are not worth looking at again.

Again, societies have these fundamental attributes (i) some general rules regarding how their laws are structured, (ii) some definitive rules on how these rules should be changed, and (iii) cultural norms. This model is still somewhat limiting, however. It seems to assume that a society can only have only one law and so on. But that problem disappears if we assume they can be different for different time, places and people. In all, this means we're back to some 500 possible societies.

Facts which rule out and points toward certain societies
Before considering any facts that has an impact on how you view a society, all societies should appear to be equally probable of being the best. This starting point may seem strange to some. It means that one should not dismiss even the policies of Nazi Germany out of hand. That is just the starting point however. After one accumulates more and more data some societies will appear less and less probable to be on that best fulfill your criteria.

But, since you don't have time to read everything, it is necessary to construct a model of how humans (and other beings, for post-singularity issues2) function and interact, that first only considers the most important facts. This could be done in several ways.

One could begin by just following normal science and ask what general facts can explain most of observed behavior and then see what those facts would predict about all societies. That seems wise to do, in and of itself, because it forces the discussion (which will ensue with others who follow the same method) to be very methodical and well grounded in a rich theory. This can be called the general method.

But this path is not the quickest, since these general facts would probably not damn enough societies to be unsuitable to your goals. A much faster way, but which will paint a more sketchy painting, is to just list those facts which will rule out the most societies. This is quicker since it will go straight to the chase. These facts may be thought of by thinking on what assumptions certain systems rely on to work adequately and trying to figure out what facts disprove most of these assumptions. This can be called the specific method.

Then there are statements which you are uncertain about but if they were true, it would become really obvious what society is best. So, not facts actually, but those ideas which you believe are worth learning more about. These potential facts should be the ones you are pondering or those which are the root cause of many debates among those with similar goals. This can be called the search method.

Here's an illustration of all three methods. Except for the last illustration, I write my own views, but these are not my own most important facts but the 11th to 20th.

The general method:

  1. People tend to conform to popular opinion.
  2. Societies become wealthier with extended markets, more savings, gaining better knowledge, producing more advanced technology, peace, and institutions which support these activities.
  3. Man is not a perfectly rational creature but has the possibility to correct his mistakes
  4. To wield power over others one generally need superior military strength.
  5. Most people fear being ostracised.
  6. Ideologies are usually formed by the social structure, and the social structure can be changed by those ideologies.
  7. People tend to enjoy the company of those who they are similar to.
  8. On markets with freedom of entry, prices for reproducible goods tends to be as low as their cost of production.
  9. Producers who don't sell what the customers want tend to receive lower earnings.
  10. Most people are adept at spotting others mistakes, but do quite poorly on noticing their own.

The specific method:

  1. All or almost all states today have tariffs to protect a certain industry or firm from competition.
  2. Generally, to know for sure if one possible society is better than another, one must be able to discuss their respective merits and demerits.
  3. The leaders of large governments tend to have less incentive to produce collective goods, rather than private goods, relative to leaders of smaller states.
  4. Most people today in democratic states give in to pressure to support policies which they are unable to know if they actually are for their own good or not.
  5. Children can be indoctrinated to glorify mass-murderers and to want to join them as soldiers, asking nothing about the justice of their cause.
  6. People are disposed to believe that the society they grow up in is good.
  7. Most people are conservative; they dislike change.
  8. All centrally planned economies perform less well than market based economic systems.
  9. Firms tend to invest money in rent-seeking if it's profitable until the expected return is similar to normal investments.
  10. Generally, it's difficult for new facts to overturn one's ideology without a contrasting ideology and it is difficult to come up with a new one by oneself.

The search method:

  1. Political system X will best achieve my goals.
  2. Political system X leads to the best incentives for everyone to produce the most important collective goods.

Now, these facts are not simply facts. They are the tip of a theoretical ice-berg; they are interpretation of reality. As such they will not by themselves explicate what system they damn. For oneself they should be clear what they mean, but if one should discuss it with others it might be necessary to write down the points and their theoretical point of view explicitly.

In any case, if you've followed my steps you should have one candidate which seems to be best. This step might, of course, take years, but if you're confident you should next estimate how much a political action towards these societies might cost.

Notes
[1] It might seem that I'd imply that that is what most people do today when they discuss politics – which, by its nature, is usually limited to tweaking the existing system one small way here and there, instead of looking at larger changes to be made. That implication is tempting to make, but most people seem to be more engaged in a ideological debate. I'd guess, anyway – I do not know for sure.

[2] They are too hard to predict so I'll skip discussing them.

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