Monday, June 8, 2020

Defunding Minneapolis

Which would be the result of actually implementing this whole #DefundThePolice nonsense.  To catch you up:
From The Guardian:
The Minneapolis city council has pledged to disband the city’s police department and replace it with a new system of public safety, a historic move that comes as calls to defund law enforcement are sweeping the US.  
Speaking at a community rally on Sunday, a veto-proof majority of council members declared their intent to “dismantle” and “abolish” the embattled police agency responsible for George Floyd’s death – and build an alternative model of community-led safety. The decision is a direct response to the massive protests that have taken over American cities in the last two weeks, and is a major victory for abolitionist activists who have long fought to disband police and prisons.
Wow. A veto-proof majority? Guess it's curtains for all those racists holed up in ... checks notes ... Minneapolis? 

This is so farcical as to defy my attempt to process it.  Also, IT IS NOT HAPPENING!  Guaranteed.  It is all political posturing because these bozos on the Minneapolis City Council know they can get away with it. Minneapolis City Charter has this little clause  getting in the way. (From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune) WAY below the fold.
The Council must follow the City Charter which requires the funding of “a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and provide for those employees’ compensation, for which purpose it may tax the taxable property in the City up to 0.3 percent of its value annually.”
As for what size police force the charter requires, a city spokesman would say that’s a “legal interpretation” that he wouldn’t answer.
Who can change the charter?
The council alone cannot do this. It needs to be a 13-0 vote with the mayor’s approval. But three council members have not said whether they support the dismantling and one seat is vacant.
But it would be FUN, FUN, FUN to speculate what would happen if the City Council successfully voted to abolish the city police department. My fearless predictions:
1. Most likely scenario. Before the abolition could take place, the city council would be recalled. See, I'm not racist, even though I am right wing.  I think black people don't like getting shot, mugged, and stolen from just as much as white or brown people. (As usual, ¡SCIENCE!, is on our side.)

2. If actually passed there would be a mass exodus of businesses and people from the city, along with a massive uptick in crime as the population armed themselves.  Eventually the state would have to step in with police action.  Same politicians also voted out of office.

The utter un-seriousness of our current political class is stupendous and is either part of the process of up ending our society or is the cause of it.  Either way, this isn't even socialism, it looks more like "clown fascism" (H/T Outsidedness for the term.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Collapse of Complexity

Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies wasn't an easy read, so I didn't read it all, just most of it and enough to understand his conclusions and implications for today's situation. You can read it for free at the link provided above, or get a fairly detailed synopsis at  Tainter's key insight is this. The marginal returns to ever increasing complexity are diminishing, hardly arguable. This inevitably leads to complexity that is unsustainable.  When an inevitable set of stressors hit the complex society when at a point of diminishing returns, it becomes more rationale for it decompose into simpler sub-components, because the society becomes incapable of maintaining its complexity.  Tainter reviews various theories of collapse and 11 examples in history. He summarizes:
  1. Human societies are problem-solving organizations;
  2. Sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
  3. Increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and
  4. Investment in sociopolitical complexity as problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns.
His summary of the collapse of the western Roman Empire is illustrative of his mode of analysis.
The fall of Rome was not due to barbarians, for the Empire was economically, organizationally, and militarily stronger than its besiegers. And it was not due to internal weaknesses, for the Empire remained essentially intact for a period of several hundred years. Rome's collapse was due to the excessive costs imposed on an agricultural population to maintain a far-flung empire in a hostile environment. 
In general, unless a complex society finds new sources of energy or more efficient forms of organizing themselves, they eventually arrive at the point where an inevitable stressor will cause societal collapse to a simpler more efficient means of delivering sustenance.

From the review:

Inevitably there comes a time when “continued investment in complexity as a problem solving strategy yields a declining marginal return” (C1,B1 to C2,B2). Tensions, adversity and dissatisfaction build up, resulting in ideological strife (e.g. between growth and no-growth). The system “scans” for solutions or alternatives to collapse, be it new religions in Roman times or more R&D, green technologies or singularitarianism today. If this process is successful, the system receives an energy subsidy (like England got with coal), and the process continues; otherwise, it passes the peak and starts descending into outright “output failure” as benefits fall while costs soar.
Tainter distinguishes the manner of collapse among two primary alternatives, "peer polity" and "isolated, dominant states." In today's globalist system, there is no such thing as an isolated dominant state.  This was already clear to Tainter already in the mid-1980s.
Peer polities then tend to undergo long periods of upwardly-spiraling competitive costs, and downward marginal returns. This is terminated finally by domination of one and acquisition of a new energy subsidy (as in Republican Rome and Warring States China), or by mutual collapse (as among the Mycenaeans and the Maya). Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner. 

One might think that unilateral economic "undevelopment" might be the solution to this challenge of complexity. However, since power follows economics, any nation that unilaterally wrecks its economy, say with a green new deal or other nonsense, risks being dominated by other global powers. The "scanning" behavior behind the "Green New Deal" is as ancient as the Roman experimentation with all sorts of new religions towards the end of their empire.

I used to dislike protectionism and isolationism, thinking that they inhibited the world wide growth of wealth.  Even before COVID19, in applying Nassim Taleb's concept of anti-fragility, I began to think that Isolationism and protectionism were rationale responses to the risks from a global economy.  By underestimating fat tailed risks, such as pandemics, our economic system becomes too fragile and complex to withstand stressors.  America is uniquely situated to survive a global collapse because federalism gives a head start on the localism that would inevitably result. (Remembering from Tainter that collapse is a rationale decomposition into smaller polities.) As Nassim Taleb points out localism is anti-fragile; I believe Tainter's work dovetails nicely with Taleb's insight that catastrophes seem more frequent than theory suggests (or at least as theory is applied by mainstream economists today).

Additionally, the scanning behavior for alternative energy sources is a worthy goal. We just shouldn't destroy our wealth for it.  Additionally, taking a look at nuclear power seems worthwhile. For the time being, the industrial capacity available from fossil fuels overwhelms the benefit of the alternatives, as we continue to find more efficient ways to extract.  Clearly that won't last forever, but it keeps lasting longer than anyone seems able to predict.

Some Fears

The elites will seize (ever more) power and enforce globalist policies, robbing us of the ability to position our country to survive a global crisis through localism.  Elites benefit from complexity; even Tainter acknowledges this. The push for mass immigration, essentially the abolishment of the nation-state is in their interest as it supplies ever more labor to produce surplus for them to keep power. (There, I used a Marxist argument against a Marxist policy.)

China is particularly vulnerable to collapse because their infrastructure was built poorly, they have a poor demographic outlook, and nasty pollution. My fear is that they will start a war to seize resources to stave off collapse and maintain the support of the population.  Tainter discusses the key point that all governments must maintain legitimacy through bread and circuses, suppression, or unity against external threats.  China has some current short term advantages that they may wish to exploit before their demographic curve works against them.  They are surrounded by wealthy neighbors, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, distant from their chief ally, the United States. Tainter points out the Roman conquest of Macedonia in 176 B.C. yielded a booty so rich as to allow the elimination of all taxes on Roman citizens, to provide an historical example.

I recommend Tainter's book for it's key conclusions.  The academic examples are excellent, but don't feel guilty just skipping to conclusions after reading an example or two.