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Anarchy Revisited (WARNING: long post ahead)

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Merlin Posted: Wed, Jan 27 2010 9:10 AM

Part 1: The issue

 

Some though question are posed time after time to us anarchists. Some have been answered, unsatisfactorily according to myself. A fuller answer is what I’ll try to provide here.

 

*How could anarchistic Ireland be conquered by the statists Britons if anarchy is so much superior to statism?

 

*Why wasn’t Iceland in the middle ages the most advanced society in Europe?

 

*Why Sicily, which if not anarchy, is at the very least a community of competing and non-territorial States, is the poorest area of Italy, while the statist north is richer?

 

*Dubai, in a mere 20 years, managed to do this:

 

 

Likewise Hong-Kong has grown, form a village to a world-class city in less than 30 years. Yet anarchistic Somalia in 20 years has managed to go form bad to slightly less bad, and is still regarded as dirt-poor. Why development, although clearly there, is so contained?  

 

But by far most importantly,

 

*How could the first States conquer vast territories living under anarchy, if anarchy is so superior?

 

These are important questions, which transcend the realm of economical praxeology and begin to mount into political economics.

 

To start understanding what possible answers could there be, we must begin by facing a simple but overlooked truth: every society we know to have been anarchistic has been a tribal society, the very first kind of human society.  Recently this thread came up with an important question: do the economics of humanity at its tribal stage differ from our own? I believe that an answer to that  question can imply so much for the debate above. I here present a theory I’ve formed recently. The theory is still only a few days old, but I believe it makes some sense. The post is long, but the issue at hand well deserves a good analysis.

 

 

 

Part 2: The clues

 

I recently fell in love with my own country’s tribal societies, Northern Albania’s highlanders. Among these tribes, organized in villages, no State has ever risen and no foreigner has ever succeeded in setting up one. The very concept of a state is alien to these people, and I regard them as the most convinced anarchists alive today. The community functions by a set of norms known as the Kanuni, a blindingly complex but logical set of rules. Allow me to forward a description of such a society, along with a few big questions that such tribes pose. I believe that the basic structure of this society is universally valid for every human society at that stage of development, form native Americans, to anarchists Ireland and Iceland, even modern-day Somalia, Afghanistan and most of sub-Saharan Africa. Let us begin.

 

 

1) Property. Albanian tribes live of agriculture and, more importantly, herding. This would make land, both arable and pasture, by far the most important asset. Yet, the curious thing is that land is never privately held. It is either held by the family as a whole (arable land), or by the village as a whole (pastures). It the thread I linked it has been said here that communal property emerges when assets are abundant, as air, and need not be economized. This is not the case here. Pastures are not overabundant by any standard, as many a feuds between families has erupted precisely over herding times. How is it than, that this property is not private? (Clue #1)

Yet more puzzling, the societal norms regulating the sale of arable land are quite clear: land is in no case to be sold to outsiders, while selling to villagers is allowed, yet rare. Pastoral land is never sold, and at most can be rented away to other villages, not Outsiders. Why this strictures? (Clue #2).

Almost everything else, besides land, is held by the family. The only exception are personal effects, property of individuals, and weapons, again individual property. How is it than, hat although private property is known, most assets are held by some sort on unbreakable community (family, in most cases)? (clue #3)

 

 

2) Trade and division of labor. The division of labor is almost inexistent beyond the family. Every family is supposed to provide for its own food, works its own land, graze its own herd, build it’s own house, shortly do everything at all by itself. Trade within the village is non-existent. The very same goes for inta-village trade. Why don’t these communities trade among themselves? (Clue #4)

Trade in general, with the “outside world” does exist, but is set at a minimum. Some surplus meat might be sold in nearby cities, every now and than, and single-time purchases, as working tools and of course weapons might be made. Why don’t these communities trade extensively with developed cities, although they well know trade? (Clue #5)

 

3) Savings. It would be easy for the villagers to “save”. All they’d have to do is expand the irrigations networks in arable lands (they already use irrigation), or expand their herds. It is clear that should such savings be implemented, the average standard of living would be much improved. So, why is it that no such improvements are actuated? (Clue #6)

 

4) The law. The Kanuni is the embodiment, in nature, not in norms, of what one would except form norms developed under anarchy. It is decentralized, no one promulgated it or has the power to change it arbitrarily. It is clear, logical to remember, unwritten, defers (sometime substantially) among different villages. It can be changed by the elders of the village, or applied with increased severity or leniency, according to the situation. It contains no provision for jail-time, but metes out punishments of (in increasing severity): social dishonor, monetary payment (the crushing majority of times), ousting form the community and, in extremis, execution. When execution is allowed, there’s no executioner: only the offended party may proceed. There’s no single judge, police force, appeal. Decisions are taken by elders and are subjected to the opinion of all. The parties are free to disagree with the sentence, but this rarely happens. Sentences loose value if one party leaves the village, and are unenforceable outside the village borders.

It must be said that most norms are clearly designed to minimize violence, and that such violence in practice often arises form contest regarding pastures or the division of property when a family separates. (Clue #7)

 

 

 

 

Part 3: The theory

 

 

Let’s recapitulate the clues we collected.

 

i)scarce means of production are held communally, with no opt-out or transfer clauses possible.

 

ii) the sale of the most important asset, land, in strictly regulated: outsiders can never rent or buy it, guys from other villages can only rent it, and only villagers can buy arable land under certain conditions.

 

iii) Consumption goods are individually owned.

 

iv) the division of labor within the community is inexistent.

 

v) trade with nearby cities is practiced on minimal levels.

 

vi) saving is possible, but no labor-saving measure is implemented

 

vii) law specifically designed to check violence arising out of property-related contents.

 

 

Now, we know that if there’s no divison of labor, there should be no society at all in here, just a war of all-against-all. Still, communities are not only existent, but share a common world-view to the extent that no law-enforcing agency has ever been created: everyone just understands and accepts the law. How can we reconcile this with what we know form Mises?

 

And more importantly, it is patently clear that the low standard of living of these communities could be easily improved. Free-time is abundant, and most of the day is ozzed away. Yet saving is not implemented.

 

Even the division of labor, both within the village and with the outside world, if implemented, could massively increase everyone’s wellbeing, with no need to save at all. No “inter-village” wars happen, so trade could flow unhampered. Why do such simple yet vital reform remain unimplemented?

 

Finally, how could scarce property, pastures, be held communally with no opt-outs, if so many cases of property-related violence arise? Why selling and renting are so strictly regulated? No-one stands to gain form such norms.

 

Clearly, such a society is impossible under praxeological theory. But praxeologic logic can’t be wronk. Hence, we must check out the assumptions.

 

Mises made assumptions when erecting the building of praxeology, assumptions that seem perfectly sensible. Positive time-preferences, non-utility of work, human action and longing for a better life. Making such assumptions we’d end up with the economic and social dynamics that Austrian scholars often point out. But perhaps, people have not always wanted a better life.

 

 

As strange as it might seem, it’s not unconceivable. After all, after a human has satisfied his most immediate biological needs to survive (food, clothing, shelter, reproduction) the doors of the future lie wide open to him. He is now free to do what he like with whatever spare time and energies he has. Should he seek still more food, a better shelter, faster reproduction rate, or should he proceed to enjoy his pare time? We know this choice will be made according to individual preference scales.

But assuming that an improvement in material life is everybody’s preference would not appear clear from here. Au contraire, most animals after quenching their thirst just waste away their spare time. Whenever they’re not hunting, drinking, fighting intruders, asserting themselves in the herd, lions just sleep. They do nothing at all. And if we must have come form the animal kingdom it would only appear possible that we too might display such a tendency. At the very least, it would be more probable than to assume that further material wants would be what we’d long for.

 

 

 

Now assume you live in a social system that faithfully translates your preferences into action, i.e. anarchy. All you want is to survive and have a minimum level of comfort, and nothing else. Everyone who might want a better life is to be discouraged in pursuing it, as that would imply change in your society, and change you dislike. What norms would you come up with?

 

Well, to discourage a bettering of life conditions you must discourage savings (check), than you must discourage private property (check). Even what property is privately held, must be subject to strictures in transactions(check). Land-holding from outsiders should be absolutely forbidden(check), as that could induce massive changes in the community. Finally, although most people prefer a static life, not everybody might. As anyone wanting a better life will find himself arguing over the proper use of communal propriety, or the strict laws of sales. Thus, a comprehensive body of norms regulating violent clashes must be developed(check).

 

 

Such people bond together in small societies due to the need to fend of aggressors and/or deal with forces of nature. Society is also an insurance pool: when one family is facing hardships, others help. But such a society has no division-of-labor goal in mind, just ensuring the survival of all community members.

 

One must understand that, without doing away with the assumption that “people prefer more to less”, the practical structure of anarcho-communist tribes in inexplicable.

 

 

 

 

Part 4: The State

 

 

Now, it is safe to assume that people do not always share preferences. Even if in small communities most prefer a static existence, a few might long for more. Perhaps just a few more square meters of land, or just a few more hours of grazing time. Normally such people are held in check by the others who ostracize them if the status quo is challenged.

 

But assume that a single such individual in endowed with extraordinary leader skills and commes to lead the community when an outside raiding party attacks. He might receive a fee for doing so. If such outside attack persist, he will get a steady source of income.

 

Or else assume that it is an outside raiding party that is contracted to protect the community against more violent aggressors. The protection fee is paid and, since changes are disagreeable form most people, it shall likely remain a static fee. But if in the protecting party a man of exceptional leader skills and at the same time an uncommon need for more material wellbeing emerges, it shall not be long before he sees that even if the fee is increased, the protected community shall continue to pay it. After all they have no need for surplus product, and to them it makes almost no difference at all whether the protectors take form them more or less: as long as  they survive, all is well. But thus the State is born: the monopoly provider of protection. 

 

Yet, as long as most still prefer a static life to a bettering of life conditions, the  State is seen as a natural thing. It bothers no one, it is almost a mutual-benefit agency. (this doesn’t mean that, if given the chance to do so cheaply, the community won’t overthrow the State, or that a State must, at each times, emerge)

 

When such a state expands no one offers a determined resistance. Even if they do, the Invader has an ace up his sleeve: his love form more over less has taught him to save, and the accumulation of capital he invest in increasing his capital yet again: he conquers. He is, shortly, far better equipped that whichever tribe is defending form his attack.

 

And than again those who, like him prefer more over less in the invaded tribe will certainly join his war, and undermine the defending tribe efforts from within. He is their only chance to live a life unhampered by the preferences of others. They become his vassals.

 

Yet, since we now know that rulers are set apart form the ruled because they do actually prefer more over less, this being their whole motivation, it would be sane to assume that the rulers ask for an ever-increasing tribute, pushing the population below substinence.

 

To avoid starvation, the population is forced to implement all the reforms they’ve so much disliked until now: they begin to trade more often in order to pay tributes, to appropriate for individual use plots of commonly held land, to work longer and save.

 

Thus, out of the thirst of the rulers for more tribute, they now start to feel themselves the need to produce more. At the beginning just to achieve a minimal living standard again, then more and more begin to prefer more to less per se. The division of labor, private property and saving thus begins to spread. Cities are born. The moment that the largest part of the population lives in cities, we can reasonably assume that in a society the majority has come to prefer more over less, and hence the Misesian analysis can be used.

 

Precisely these circumstances provided Mises with his “empirically visible” assumptions. But he was witnessing a process that had just begun, and mistakenly elevated it to an eternal characteristic of humans.

 

The dissolution of the state rests in the very factor that brought its rise: as more “tribute” is asked, more people come to appreciate material well-being. But those who prefer more over less do mind the state, a lot actually. As long as they can be bribed out of secession from the State, by democratizing and expanding civil service, things are good.

 

But when such people become too many to bribe, the end of the state is not far. I believe we’re very near that point. Western administrations have expanded as much as they can. Scantly more can be taxed form the few to give to the many. Almost everyone in western societies, and an increasing number of those living in the east, now longs for a better life. The end, the triumph of the “economic means” over the ”political means” is near.

 

Thus every tribal society until now ahs seeked a static existence. Only a few in Ireland, Iceland,  ancient villages, northern Albania and Somalia actually try to improve their lives beyond mere survival. The only society of people that long for material well-being, and are free to pursue this end, is the society of Politicians, Business leaders and high-time Mobsters. As long as the rest can be bribed into submission, the State will exist.

 

When not, the state will have served its purpose.  

 

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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mahsah replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 10:02 AM

This is a really awesome post, and answers some of the biggest questions I've had about Anarcho-Capitalism.

You should try getting this published on the site.


And by the way, don't forget: "Tu Ne Cede Malis".

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Stranger replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 10:08 AM

Merlin:

*How could the first States conquer vast territories living under anarchy, if anarchy is so superior?

 

These are important questions, which transcend the realm of economical praxeology and begin to mount into political economics.

Actually that is quite easily explained by economic praxeology, as the early anarchies were communistic, and so were easily destroyed or conquered by societies practicing more advanced forms of government, such as private property under monarchy.

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AJ replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 11:02 AM

Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Merlin.

We've got to keep in mind that a society is nothing more than the individuals in it. If those individuals are highly connected and the overwhelming majority desire to live simple lives, there is no reason to expect them to somehow become economic powerhouses even if they remain in anarchy. That would in fact go against their wishes.

In my hometown the town council recently drove out a giant corporation that had long brought thousands of jobs and investment dollars. Although the town government is a State and hence could be swayed by a vocal politically actively minority, in this case there is actually a sizable contingent that wants to keep the town small and simple.

Migration is still an anarchic aspect of our current society: there is free competition among cities and states as places to live. My hometown has become a place for people who want to live in a city of precisely that level of economic development and population. It's an understandable thing.

Everyone wants to be better off, but not everyone defines better off in the same way. No one wants to be starving and constantly at war, but not everyone wants plasma TVs and fast food, or even a superabundance of slow food. For them, the costs (change of village traditions, etc.) outweigh the benefits.

We can be fairly sure, then, that most people in those highlander societies are having their needs fulfilled better than if the villages became states.

Anarchy's advantage over Statism isn't necessarily anything more than that it better serves the needs of the individuals that comprise the society. If, for instance, security from invasion is not a major worry of most people, or they don't know that economic development will help with that, there's no particular reason to suspect that that society will develop faster economically - and hence be better prepared to fend off invasion - than others. Certainly Statist societies can "outstrip" those in anarchy if the people in the respective societies have vastly different priorities or knowledge.

The argument is rather that for any given society, the needs of individuals will be better served in anarchy than under a State. If those individuals desire - as most of us here probably do - greater economic development and security, the arguments for anarchy (the consequentialist ones at least) maintain that anarchy will better deliver that state of affairs than statehood.

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Spideynw replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 11:52 AM

Merlin:
*How could anarchistic Ireland be conquered by the statists Britons if anarchy is so much superior to statism?

Because it was anarchy by circumstance.

At most, I think only 5% of the adult population would need to stop cooperating to have real change.

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scineram replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 1:01 PM

What do you mean?

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Merlin replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 1:38 PM

 1)       I really didn’t think that anyone would have had the nerve to go through that post. I just had to get this idea out my head. Thanks guys.

2)       I thought that even if someone actually had the nerve to go through the post, I’d be facing heated replies. I’m stunned.

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Merlin replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 1:41 PM

Stranger:
Actually that is quite easily explained by economic praxeology, as the early anarchies were communistic, and so were easily destroyed or conquered by societies practicing more advanced forms of government, such as private property under monarchy.

 

Precisely. The question unanswerable praxeologycaly is why where they anarcho-communistic?

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Stranger replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 2:14 PM

Merlin:

 

Precisely. The question unanswerable praxeologycaly is why where they anarcho-communistic?

Because they had no yet discovered the benefits of private ownership and the division of labor.

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Merlin replied on Wed, Jan 27 2010 2:23 PM

Stranger:
Because they had no yet discovered the benefits of private ownership and the division of labor.

The tribes I studied knew pretty well the benefits of the division of labor, they just avoided them. I believe that is the universal case.

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Metus replied on Mon, Feb 1 2010 5:27 AM

In fact I am confused by the fact that minarchistic societies are economically developing faster than anarchistic ones in every case. Is there some sort of rule that anarchistic societies have to be communist or is this just some kind of coincidence? Or in case of Somalia: How can one transform Somalia (partially) in an anarcho-capitalist society?

Honeste vivere, nemimen laedere, suum cuique tribuere.
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nandnor replied on Tue, Feb 2 2010 3:19 PM

But when such people become too many to bribe, the end of the state is not far. I believe we’re very near that point. Western administrations have expanded as much as they can. Scantly more can be taxed form the few to give to the many. Almost everyone in western societies, and an increasing number of those living in the east, now longs for a better life. The end, the triumph of the “economic means” over the ”political means” is near.
Wait, so how does that eliminate statism? If your assumption was that most people are ideological hippies that dont care much about material wealth, and the politicians/big business man are the ones that do, then the fundamental dynamic of the latter group gaining power and expanding it remains and rebuilds itself after its destruction.

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Merlin replied on Tue, Feb 2 2010 3:33 PM

nandnor:
Wait, so how does that eliminate statism? If your assumption was that most people are ideological hippies that dont care much about material wealth, and the politicians/big business man are the ones that do, then the fundamental dynamic of the latter group gaining power and expanding it remains and rebuilds itself after its destruction.

Of course. I didn’t mean that as our States are going bankrupt, no others will be formed to replace them. States have been going belly up for the last 5000 years, and some other state always sprang up to replace them.

 

What I meant is that there is what appears to be a general tendency in history for more and more people to care about material wealth, and less and less people to ignore it. We can infer it by 1) the widespread existence of Cities, the centers of division of labor par excellence, and 2) the fact that no one today thinks that there can be such a thing as a human not caring about material wealth.

 

But if most people begin to care about material wealth, than we know form praxeology that anarcho-capitalism is be the system that better satisfies their needs (just as anarcho-communism better satisfied the needs of “ideological hippies”). If most people prefer more to less, than the Misesian analysis applies, and we know where that analysis leads us to.

 

So, if most people care about wealth, an ancap society is coming, as the rationale of the State, the fact that some care about wealth while other don’t, is disappearing.

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Torsten replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 6:12 AM

Interesting post, Merlin. Really some issues our armchair anarchist should think about.

Stranger:
Actually that is quite easily explained by economic praxeology, as the early anarchies were communistic, and so were easily destroyed or conquered by societies practicing more advanced forms of government, such as private property under monarchy.

And you really think, they'd have defended themselves better, if they were individualistic?

Besides that Ireland was one of the most difficult colonial conquests the British ever undertook. The rest was pretty easy, except for the Boers perhaps, which had some traits of a more individualistic semi-Anarchy (weak central government).  

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Stranger:
Actually that is quite easily explained by economic praxeology, as the early anarchies were communistic, and so were easily destroyed or conquered by societies practicing more advanced forms of government, such as private property under monarchy.

Plus the superiority complex caused by coming from a more advanced society helped them justify mass extermination and genocide against mere savages.

"What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable." - Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics
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Merlin:
Clearly, such a society is impossible under praxeological theory. But praxeologic logic can’t be wronk. Hence, we must check out the assumptions.

 

Mises made assumptions when erecting the building of praxeology, assumptions that seem perfectly sensible. Positive time-preferences, non-utility of work, human action and longing for a better life. Making such assumptions we’d end up with the economic and social dynamics that Austrian scholars often point out. But perhaps, people have not always wanted a better life.

I think you're assuming the definition of a "better life".  It doesn't necessarily mean have savings, and work to increase technologically.  A better life is subjective.  It can mean tons of leisure time as long as the basic necessities of life are met and thereby life is lived at the subjective comfort level of the individual(s).  But even that statement is subjective, but I'm only talking about people that desire necessities of life and strive for a particular level of comfort.  I for one, am very satisfied with a simple life.  I enjoy fire heat over oil or electric heat.  I find it by experience to be more effective, thus, I have a woodburner and labor throughout the year to stockpile wood for the winter.  Meanwhile some people might find this 'backwards', where I live it is effective and possible.  I enjoy hunting, garden, and fishing.  The cost savings on hunting a deer and cutting it up by myself loosens up money to be spent on other 'fun' or 'leisure' activities.  Yet clearly all of these activities involve work, but I find the trade off to be enjoyable.

Merlin:
But such a society has no division-of-labor goal in mind, just ensuring the survival of all community members

There is always a division of labor.  I think you're thinking that division of labor is complex at all times and places, but that need not be.  Division of labor is one individual does one activity and another individual doing another activity.  Each of the individuals pool together their energy to achieve a goal.  The family is the division of labor in the society you describe.  You also mention renting between another villager upon the communal pastures of a village.  Who takes the rent?  Not everybody at once, somebody did, even if that person is not designated as the all-time rent taker, whoever took the rent at the time did so while other people didn't.  The labor was divided.  And where does this rent go?  Again somebody is making the decisions.  Then the case of the elders role, again, another description of labor being divided and designated to a particular person at any one time.

Merlin:
One must understand that, without doing away with the assumption that “people prefer more to less”, the practical structure of anarcho-communist tribes in inexplicable.

Who says more is capital related?  More can mean "more leisure time".  It's subjective.

The theory on the State was very interesting.  I'm going to think about that part a bit more.  Thanks.

"Do not put out the fire of the spirit." 1The 5:19
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Merlin replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 9:17 AM

wilderness:

I think you're assuming the definition of a "better life".  It doesn't necessarily mean have savings, and work to increase technologically.  A better life is subjective.  It can mean tons of leisure time as long as the basic necessities of life are met and thereby life is lived at the subjective comfort level of the individual(s).  But even that statement is subjective, but I'm only talking about people that desire necessities of life and strive for a particular level of comfort.  I for one, am very satisfied with a simple life.  I enjoy fire heat over oil or electric heat.  I find it by experience to be more effective, thus, I have a woodburner and labor throughout the year to stockpile wood for the winter.  Meanwhile some people might find this 'backwards', where I live it is effective and possible.  I enjoy hunting, garden, and fishing.  The cost savings on hunting a deer and cutting it up by myself loosens up money to be spent on other 'fun' or 'leisure' activities.  Yet clearly all of these activities involve work, but I find the trade off to be enjoyable.

Oh, wilderness, now I get itStick out tongue

Thank you for the feedback. Well, at the begging of the post, I too thought of just saying that these people just prefers non-material gains, i.e. more leisure time. But there’s a problem there: assuming they prefer the most spare time possible, why shouldn’t they specialize, trade, accumulate capital and thus spend only half an hour a day working for substinence, instead of the, say, 5 hours they spend today? You see, when saying that “they prefer more leisure time to less” we still must see that they would trade, specialize and invest. Preferring more over less, of everything at all, forces one to do down that path.

 

That’s why I must do away with the general assumption; “people prefer more over less”. Only by assuming that only a stabile life gives utility to these tribes, that they still are genetically predisposed to “shut of” after their base need have been satisfied, and not that they simply prefer more leisure time over more material well-being, only thus we can explain the total staticity of these societies.

 

 

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Marko replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 9:31 AM

Merlin:

Thank you for the feedback. Well, at the begging of the post, I too thought of just saying that these people just prefers non-material gains, i.e. more leisure time. But there’s a problem there: assuming they prefer the most spare time possible, why shouldn’t they specialize, trade, accumulate capital and thus spend only half an hour a day working for substinence, instead of the, say, 5 hours they spend today? You see, when saying that “they prefer more leisure time to less” we still must see that they would trade, specialize and invest. Preferring more over less, of everything at all, forces one to do down that path.

Because they are lazy. Yes Merlin it is true. In anarchy there would still be lazy people.

 

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Merlin:

Thank you for the feedback. Well, at the begging of the post, I too thought of just saying that these people just prefers non-material gains, i.e. more leisure time. But there’s a problem there: assuming they prefer the most spare time possible, why shouldn’t they specialize, trade, accumulate capital and thus spend only half an hour a day working for substinence, instead of the, say, 5 hours they spend today? You see, when saying that “they prefer more leisure time to less” we still must see that they would trade, specialize and invest. Preferring more over less, of everything at all, forces one to do down that path.

 

If I prefer more food because I ate the stockpile of food I had in the cabinet that's bad?

 

Merlin:
That’s why I must do away with the general assumption; “people prefer more over less”. Only by assuming that only a stabile life gives utility to these tribes, that they still are genetically predisposed to “shut of” after their base need have been satisfied, and not that they simply prefer more leisure time over more material well-being, only thus we can explain the total staticity of these societies.

I think more of the basic necessities is preferable to the less of them when I have run out of the basic necessities and thereby need more to survive.

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Marko:
Because they are lazy. Yes Merlin it is true. In anarchy there would still be lazy people.

Just like those stinking red men savages.

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Merlin replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 11:22 AM

Marko:
Because they are lazy. Yes Merlin it is true. In anarchy there would still be lazy people.

Perhaps, but I seriously doubt they would have erected such an intricate sets of laws, and kept changing them to best fit their everyday needs, even if we might not share with those needs, if they where just lazy. 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Merlin replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 11:31 AM

wilderness:
If I prefer more food because I ate the stockpile of food I had in the cabinet that's bad?

All of the contrary, that would indicate you do prefer more over less, and hence will chose the free market way to further your wellbeing, precisely as Mises argues. What happens with tribes is that they just stop having preferences above the point of basic needs. Inaction can only be explained by that.

wilderness:
I think more of the basic necessities is preferable to the less of them when I have run out of the basic necessities and thereby need more to survive.

 

A welcome correction. So, let’s say I, tribesman have such an illustrative preference scale as below (more preferred on top):

 

Basic needs satisfied

I

I

I

Basic needs unsatisfied

 

And just that. Below “ basic needs unsatisfied” there’s death, hence no more choice. Above “basic need s satisfied” there’s….blank. As long as our instinct are satisfied, our genetic “program” ends, and almost no other needs surfaces. A few evolve beyond that, but as economists we need not care how preferences evolve over time. Could this be the true preference scale of primitive man? 

 

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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wilderness replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 11:51 AM

Merlin:

wilderness:
If I prefer more food because I ate the stockpile of food I had in the cabinet that's bad?

All of the contrary, that would indicate you do prefer more over less, and hence will chose the free market way to further your wellbeing, precisely as Mises argues. What happens with tribes is that they just stop having preferences above the point of basic needs. Inaction can only be explained by that.

I figured when I said this above, that I was stopping at basic needs.  But that's not called "inaction".  That's called preferring to do something else with my time rather than stockpiling more food than I need.

Merlin:

wilderness:
I think more of the basic necessities is preferable to the less of them when I have run out of the basic necessities and thereby need more to survive.

A welcome correction. So, let’s say I, tribesman have such an illustrative preference scale as below (more preferred on top):

 

Basic needs satisfied

I

I

I

Basic needs unsatisfied

 

And just that. Below “ basic needs unsatisfied” there’s death, hence no more choice. Above “basic need s satisfied” there’s….blank. As long as our instinct are satisfied, our genetic “program” ends, and almost no other needs surfaces.

You're taking a possible materialist view of this.  Preferences don't begin and end with basic necessities of material well-being.  There's also time well spent with family, friends, and maybe skipping rocks across the lake.

Merlin:
A few evolve beyond that, but as economists we need not care how preferences evolve over time. Could this be the true preference scale of primitive man? 

I can't say all of  "primitive" (whatever that may mean) man.  I don't have the study readily with me, so, trust me on this or not.  It doesn't necessitate confirmation of our speculation on "primitive" man.  Yet I read a study while in the university about an Australian aboriginal tribe, I believe in northwest part of the country, in which it was observed that an introduction of steel axes and then the subsequential displacement of stone axes didn't change their behavior.  They worked as long as they previously did, but since the steel axes could cut better, meaning, more trees with the same energy output/time (admittedly hard to measure but I think there is a speculative point here), since they could, then more trees were cut down thereafter and I believe what ended up happening was a change in their lifestyle overall as the people needed to search further and further beyond their usual range to find wood.  They didn't stop even when they were running out of trees to cut down close to their usual home range.  I think that supports what you were saying in your original post.  But I don't know where to demarcate the line between "primitive" and "not primitive".  Acheulean tools were not as effective as the Cro-Magnon tools of Europe, but was one more primitive than the other, thereby making the Cro-Magnon not primitive anymore?  But yet some people of Industrialized U.S. of A. would think Cro-Magnon is primitive.  Heck some teenagers might think their parents or grand-parents are primitive.

edit:  Also I think it would be presumptuous to lap every "primitive man" into a preference scale of one size fits all.  Maybe there is an individual in the village that saves more milk than others.  Or perhaps eats more cattle per helping at lunch.  Or gathers more firewood to burn than others to make a hotter fire at times (not even necessarily all the time, maybe even only once), etc..., etc....

 

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Marko replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 11:54 AM

Jackson LaRose:

Marko:
Because they are lazy. Yes Merlin it is true. In anarchy there would still be lazy people.

Just like those stinking red men savages.

You mean just like rednecks.

 

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Clayton replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 11:54 AM

But perhaps, people have not always wanted a better life.

I agree with the gist of what you're getting at here, but I think you're not being sufficiently analytical - we should think of a human's lifetime as just another scarce resource which he or she allocates to minimize suffering (maximize pleasure). As Bastiat says it, all people naturally prefer leisure (pleasure) to labor (pain). We seek pleasure and avoid pain - and this should not be understood in a crude physicalist sense, either, since the ascetic in pursuing his life of spartan self-denial is still pursuing what pleases him even if that entails physical suffering.

So, the tradeoff you've identified is between leisure and labor. The whole purpose of laboring is to improve one's leisure time. The voluntarily homeless man eschews labor and prefers to take his leisure time unimproved, that is, as he gets it in the state of nature, subsisting by scavenging and begging. Such a choice does not reflect "irrationality" or a failure to prefer better to worse. Rather, it reflects a different preference schedule over leisure and labor, where unimproved leisure time is still preferable to even a cursory amount of labor in the valuation of the individual.

I think this explains a great deal of the supposed laziness of tribal societies. I suspect you are right that part of the reason many people work is not out of a sense of duty or even a burning desire to improve their standard of living but out of the need not to be sunk past the level of absolute destitution by the unforgiving obligation of State tribute. Without the State, I suspect there would be a great deal more idleness in society as well as a great deal more productivity. In this sense, I think the State has an attenuating effect, tending to push the least productive members of society to produce even though they would rather not and punishing the most productive members of society by copiously plundering the proceeds of their industry. On both ends of the spectrum - the most and least productive - the State multiplies human misery by forcing individuals to act in ways they would rather not, forcing the productive to idleness and the idle to production.

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Marko replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 11:56 AM

ClaytonB:

I think this explains a great deal of the supposed laziness of tribal societies.

You are talking about laziness like it is a bad thing.

 

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ClaytonB:
I suspect you are right that part of the reason many people work is not out of a sense of duty or even a burning desire to improve their standard of living but out of the need not to be sunk past the level of absolute destitution by the unforgiving obligation of State tribute. Without the State, I suspect there would be a great deal more idleness in society as well as a great deal more productivity.

Boy, you hit the nail on the head there, Clayton.  It's the only reason I have a job!

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Merlin replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 12:51 PM

 

Now, I can easily discern four explanations here.

 

 

The first is what I ca make of Clayton’s, Wilderness’ and Marko’s posts.

 

Leisure time is very high on the preference scale of “primitive” humans (we’ll just use the term for the lack of a better one), or else any kind of labor is very disutile. Hence as soon as they achieve a minimum level of needs satisfaction, i.e. they can live, they proceed to use their leisure time instead.

 

This wouldn’t sit well with the example brought by Wilderness though. Should “primitives” be just lazy, why would they keep cutting many more trees than the need, only our of habit? Wouldn’t they work less?

 

Which brings me to the second objection, the one I mentioned earlier: why not trade than? Wilderness was correct in pointing out that the intra-family division of labor already exists. I also pointed out in my original example, that sporadic trade with the city is to be found.  

 

So, if indeed one values leisure above all, and spurns labor above all, than why just not extend the specialization of labor whiting the village, and indeed among villages? With the very same amount of labor there would be much more produce for everyone or, in this case, the same product would be achieved by working far less. They already know trade, so why is the specialization of labor so lacking? I cannot explain that. Or again, why not save a year or two, and with the increase capital base work much less? They can save when they have two (some flood kills half of the herd). So why don’t they?

 

And than again, why do they even have customs? A very lazy guy would just say to himself “Yeah, what the hell, I’m just going to shoot everyone who shows up at my door. I need no laws and all that!” Still tribal legal norms are very complex. Why such a need?

 

 

 

The second: primitives are simply very averse to change.

 

Every change in their familiar society brings them much disutility, thus, stability is to be valued above all.

 

That would explain wilderness’ example. Still it would not explain, and this is a big defect, Albanian tribes’ continuously evolving law. If stability is so much valued, why do they bother to change the law? Or indeed why would law exist in the first place? If they are averse to change they wouldn’t need any, as everyone (or most) would stick to the grazing times they got and no conflict could arise.

 

Yet law exists. Finally, is change is so terrible, why don’t numerous families ban their sons, besides the very first one (or perhaps two, to insure against the death of one of them)? Tribal families are extended, and every newborn in seen as a blessing. Hardly a change-averse society than.

 

 

 

The Third: primitive have very high time preferences

 

They don’t save and don’t trade because they just cant defer satisfaction to any degree. They prefer what they can get now, now.

 

But how to amount for their keeping communal property. Children (normally of high time preferences) can’t hold anything in common, and would rather prefer to consume it or sell it outright. Why than, most property is not only held communally, but any kind of sale is strictly forbidden?

 

Or why doesn’t a “war of all against all” erupt, in order to steal the other’s property? Very high time preferences would indicate just that.

 

 

 

The Fourth: Their preferences “stop” when all their basic needs are satisfied.

 

Beyond that, they feel no more pleasure form more leisure time, material possessions, or indeed anything else.

 

That would explain all of what we se in tribal societies. It would seem normal and it would find a basic expression even today, in people such as Howard Hughes: after getting to a given point, nothing else please them. I suspect we all have such “breaking point”, what sets us apart from “less evolved” men is the height of such a point.

 

Now a guy that has achieved his ‘Breaking point” acts only to maintain it. He goes around in his routine, and sees no need to implement any changes if the status quo isn’t threatened. Basically imagine yourself on vacations all life: as long as you account is full, you do not worry about a thing.  

 

This could explain Wilderness’s example: the natives where indifferent between cutting less trees and cutting the same number. And when preferences are the same, tradition steps in, assuring that they continue to act, out of custom, as they did in the past, cutting  the same number of trees.

 

 

 

 

Now, if you can find fault with this fourth explanation, than we’ll need an other one. The problem though remains: we need to explain, in a praxeological manner, the anarchist societies that preceded the emergence of the State.

 

 

 

ClaytonB:
Without the State, I suspect there would be a great deal more idleness in society as well as a great deal more productivity. In this sense, I think the State has an attenuating effect, tending to push the least productive members of society to produce even though they would rather not and punishing the most productive members of society by copiously plundering the proceeds of their industry. On both ends of the spectrum - the most and least productive - the State multiplies human misery by forcing individuals to act in ways they would rather not, forcing the productive to idleness and the idle to production.

 

Granted. I’m not holding that the State is moral on that account. All I’m saying is that its emergence is inevitable, as long as most of those ruled do not resent it enough to overthrow it (or stop obeying). So, as long as breaking points are so diverging, as it happened prior to the industrial revolution, than a state will emerge. Only when breaking points begin to cluster, than states become unviable.

 

PS: my head hurts. 

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Marko replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 1:30 PM

Merlin:

So, if indeed one values leisure above all, and spurns labor above all, than why just not extend the specialization of labor whiting the village, and indeed among villages? With the very same amount of labor there would be much more produce for everyone or, in this case, the same product would be achieved by working far less. They already know trade, so why is the specialization of labor so lacking? I cannot explain that. Or again, why not save a year or two, and with the increase capital base work much less? They can save when they have two (some flood kills half of the herd). So why don’t they?  

Time preference. They want their leisure time now. Not after 5 years of mind-numbing work to become a skilled carpenter or an exquisite hair stylist.

 

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Merlin:
This wouldn’t sit well with the example brought by Wilderness though. Should “primitives” be just lazy, why would they keep cutting many more trees than the need, only our of habit? Wouldn’t they work less?

One thing I left out of that study that might be pertinent but was again speculative on the researchers behalf, though, it seems to make sense.  He stated since they were doing this work relatively the same amount of time was spent on cutting these trees, the conclusion of the researcher was habit.  And since the outcome was out of range of their usual thinking patterns or discernment, they continued to do what they always did yet the outcome was more trees chopped.  Essentially they didn't know what the outcome of this would be until it was too late as people woke up to the fact of their actions when their lifestyles eventually dramatically changed.  It seems to be a hindsight discernment by the villagers, at least, that's what the researcher concluded but the researcher didn't state this was the end to the theorizing as to what happened.  It was his conclusion at the time.  There was more to why he came to this conclusion based on interviews with the villagers and such, but of course the ultimate why might be a bit difficult.  I mean we know humans learn.  Why didn't they learn in time?  But then again look at the state of affairs around us currently.  Why don't people learn in time and continue to do what they do, sometimes repeatedly with the same ill-result.

Merlin:
And than again, why do they even have customs? A very lazy guy would just say to himself “Yeah, what the hell, I’m just going to shoot everyone who shows up at my door. I need no laws and all that!” Still tribal legal norms are very complex. Why such a need?

Surely wise people came along and added to their repository of sound customs.  As events worked and their high regard for peaceful village life persisted, then why change anything?  Maybe it's taboo to change their current lifestyle as they prize what they have and find change to what has worked to be highly suspicious of.  One thing about old cultures, such as these, is change in customs is not always valued, yet, when Europeans came to the Americas the people already here loved those new glass beads, and off it went.  But then again what is exotic makes people curious, sometimes to their detriment, sometimes to their benefit.  What people don't know about might captivate their sensibilities and reason is abandoned but that's only the inner entrepreneur guru inside speaking.  Cultures may stay the same for a very long time, but sometimes they still end up picking up new cultural traits in time.  Each culture doesn't come up with their current customs right off the bat.  There is a cultural evolution even if sometimes very small, maybe a thousand years go by without any substantial change, or maybe it only takes about ten seconds for an individual to adapt to a new lifestyle.

Merlin:
The second: primitives are simply very averse to change.

whoops.  you started to say this already.Stick out tongue

Merlin:
That would explain wilderness’ example. Still it would not explain, and this is a big defect, Albanian tribes’ continuously evolving law. If stability is so much valued, why do they bother to change the law? Or indeed why would law exist in the first place? If they are averse to change they wouldn’t need any, as everyone (or most) would stick to the grazing times they got and no conflict could arise.

Tribes or primitive people around the world are not homogeneous in lifestyle.  Look where the Albanians live, the geo-politics of the region.  Maybe law evolved this way to adapt to what they perceived as detrimental outside forces and this was a way to sustain what they didn't want to change.  Cultural traits across the board in a culture don't follow the same patterns.  For instance, as you note here, the law changes, but changes to make sure the rest of the society doesn't change.

Merlin:
The Third: primitive have very high time preferences

They don’t save and don’t trade because they just cant defer satisfaction to any degree. They prefer what they can get now, now.

But how to amount for their keeping communal property. Children (normally of high time preferences) can’t hold anything in common, and would rather prefer to consume it or sell it outright. Why than, most property is not only held communally, but any kind of sale is strictly forbidden?

Or why doesn’t a “war of all against all” erupt, in order to steal the other’s property? Very high time preferences would indicate just that.

I think you are describing the why's here.  Use the preference scale contextually, meaning, for each individual event you can apply it.  For example, high preference time to not save.  Yet low preference time for conflict.  Not saving doesn't mean absolutely there will be conflict.  It's societal scaled.  What I mean is, no savings in an economic system that is embedded with production and higher order systems of productive growth need savings.  Lots of people depend on those savings to sustain that particular kind of economic system.  But those savings stretched out across the whole production system from raw material extraction to consumer good on the store shelf, those savings might be minimum.  Maybe none at all, a lose, or maybe their is enough profit to do it all over again, or maybe even more than enough profit to expand into other production methods and/or products.  The savings is meeting the demands of the product, but essentially the consumers wants for what the consumers currently thinks he or she can get.  The market meets those demands that the consumer believes he or she can get because they saw it in an ad or something.  Or an innovator came up with something that he or she believes people will accept and buy even though such a product has never been on the market.  It's a risk at that point for both consumer and producer, but in a market that can afford such risks thus the way it goes.  Preference scales are not flat for each variable or event.  They can change depending on what the individual(s) involved in each one of those variables.

Merlin:
Now a guy that has achieved his ‘Breaking point” acts only to maintain it. He goes around in his routine, and sees no need to implement any changes if the status quo isn’t threatened. Basically imagine yourself on vacations all life: as long as you account is full, you do not worry about a thing.

That's a good point.  And the market's status quo is breaking a lot now-a-days.  The market is very dynamic, and the pressures of the state, as Clayton mentioned, skew the goals people have.  People are more subservient to the state goals than their own.  Thus why I want liberty and find the government to be slavish. 

Merlin:
This could explain Wilderness’s example: the natives where indifferent between cutting less trees and cutting the same number. And when preferences are the same, tradition steps in, assuring that they continue to act, out of custom, as they did in the past, cutting  the same number of trees.

I think this is correct, except the variable involved.  It wasn't custom stepping in saying how many trees to cut.  It was a time oriented culture in that they spent the same amount of time cutting the trees but with steel axes they could cut more trees in that given time.  Custom was oriented to time, not the material gain or lose.

ClaytonB:
Without the State, I suspect there would be a great deal more idleness in society as well as a great deal more productivity. In this sense, I think the State has an attenuating effect, tending to push the least productive members of society to produce even though they would rather not and punishing the most productive members of society by copiously plundering the proceeds of their industry. On both ends of the spectrum - the most and least productive - the State multiplies human misery by forcing individuals to act in ways they would rather not, forcing the productive to idleness and the idle to production.

Merlin:
Granted. I’m not holding that the State is moral on that account. All I’m saying is that its emergence is inevitable, as long as most of those ruled do not resent it enough to overthrow it (or stop obeying). So, as long as breaking points are so diverging, as it happened prior to the industrial revolution, than a state will emerge. Only when breaking points begin to cluster, than states become unviable.

I agree that there seems to be something constructive and insightful about the "breaking-point" concept you have going Merlin.  I like what Clayton said.  I don't think it's deniable.  I think what your saying helps explain the same thing yet in a different manner.

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Clayton replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 1:57 PM

Merlin:

 

Now, I can easily discern four explanations here.

 

 <snip>

I take exception to the "primitives" conceptualization - I believe so-called "primitives" were much more savvy and intellectually sophisticated than modern scholars give them credit for (this a consequence of our so-called "empirical" anthropology which restricts itself to making the most guarded inferences from the few primitive artifacts we have managed to dig up), and that modern man is much more elemental and primitive than we like to think.

I reject the idea that once basic subsistence has been achieved, preference ends. This is patently false - people always prefer high social status to low social status (this is a simple function of the fact that we are not the descendants of men of such low social status they could not attract female mates) and this demand is unlimited. However well met my desires for food, shelter and clothing may be, I will always prefer a higher social status to a lower. Entailed in this is all the gadgetry and accessories of adornment - headdresses, jewelry, pets, servants, etc. Second, people always prefer variety to repetition (I vaguely recall reading a study by neurologists that there is actually an area of the brain that lights up with any novel situation). This is a simple consequence of our need to explore and exploit the varied natural resources in our environment. We are not the descendants of people who preferred to stay in place and starve to death, rather than branch out and explore the world in search of better prospects.

Also, I've noticed that you keep talking about the amount of leisure time... the issue is not only maximizing the amount of leisure time, but its quality. When I labor, I am forgoing leisure time that I could have enjoyed instead of laboring. This is the fundamental exchange that I am making. I have given up leisure time, traded it away, for the profits to be had from laboring. These profits are then used to increase the quality of my remaining leisure time. Granted, an increase in the division of labor will increase both the quality and quantity of leisure which can be had in exchange for a given amount of labor. But that is all beside the point to analyzing the issue from the point of view of the individual. The individual cannot change the division of labor in society, he can only choose whether to work or relax. If he chooses to work, he is forgoing relaxation, that is, he is settling for a lower quantity of relaxation time. If he chooses to relax, he is choosing to forgo the increased quality of relaxation which he might have had if he had worked for some time and then relaxed for the remaining time. We can think of it as a parametric curve in two dimensions expressed by the following equation:

u + v = T

... where u is some abstract measure of the quality of one's leisure time, v is the quantity of one's leisure time and T is the remaining time a person has left to live. If you give up all leisure time, you could have the maximum quality of it, that is, you would have the maximum amount of money to spend if you did take some leisure time. Conversely, if you give up all labor and spend your time taking your leisure, it will be of the lowest quality since you will have no money whatsoever to spend. This ignores the joy which people take in their labor but I think it gets the basic idea across. If you work, you get less leisure time but it's of higher quality. If you don't work, you get more leisure time but it's of lower quality. On the one end of the spectrum is the workaholic who never takes any leisure time and just works all the time. He is maximizing for quality (presumably). On the other end of the spectrum is the voluntarily homeless man who never labors - he takes his leisure at all times. He is maximizing for quantity. Somewhere between these two extremes are 99.99% of people.

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good point Marko.

good post Clayton.

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Merlin replied on Wed, Feb 24 2010 2:04 AM

ClaytonB:
I reject the idea that once basic subsistence has been achieved, preference ends. This is patently false - people always prefer high social status to low social status (this is a simple function of the fact that we are not the descendants of men of such low social status they could not attract female mates) and this demand is unlimited. However well met my desires for food, shelter and clothing may be, I will always prefer a higher social status to a lower. Entailed in this is all the gadgetry and accessories of adornment - headdresses, jewelry, pets, servants, etc.

Well, that would seem indeed true, as it did to Mises of course. But a closer look is revealing.

 

Going back to my original case study, no one seeks on those tribes to gains a higher social status in per se. Now of course if you’re a good problem-solver and negotiator, your advice will be seeked not only within your village, but far beyond. The very guy that ‘brought” the Kanuni law, Lek Dukagjini really existed (in the middle of the XV century) and was precisely such a guy: he didn’t seek to have social status, he was just naturally talented at solving disputes. After solving dispute all his life, he just passed down the ways he used, nowadays known as the Kanuni I Lek Dukagjinit.

 

My point is that no one seek social status, in this society, for its own sake. If it come along, fine, but if it doesn’t fine nonetheless. There are no jewels but those a woman owns for herself (guns are status indicator in men, but everyone is supposed to have one and one alone), servants are unknowns and even paid labor is rare. And I assume that, taking all the stereotypes any, every  tribal society is rather egaliztarian in social status, with only age and exceptional achievement conferring some “surplus” status. It is certainly so in the Albanian tribes I read about.

 

It might seem granted for us nowadays, will almost every teen wanting to become a popstar, or every college student wanting to become president or something, that we seek status. But that is not inate, rather a peculiarity of our society, made up mostly of people who have a very high, if indeed any, breaking point.  We need not assume that is applied to every human ever.

 

ClaytonB:
We are not the descendants of people who preferred to stay in place and starve to death, rather than branch out and explore the world in search of better prospects.

That’s a very important insight. Lets get back in time, to the original structure of breaking points, i.e. most people with a low one and a very with none at all. Who do you think will be advantaged in social evolution? Low breaking points females will be fine with both low breaking point and no breaking point partners. No breaking point females, on the other hand, will only prefer no breaking point mates.

 

So, in time, those with no breaking point, assuming that this is entirely a genetic train (not very realistic, but assuming this away would only help the analysis), multiply faster. Add than, they have bigger capital bases to withstand “shocks” (war, famine, flood), than we see that in time they will win. In the west that has already happened completely, in the east to some degree. Thus, you are right when you say that we are the descendants of people with no breaking points. What I cannot second, is only that you assume that they must have been the rule in primal societies.

ClaytonB:

Also, I've noticed that you keep talking about the amount of leisure time... the issue is not only maximizing the amount of leisure time, but its quality. When I labor, I am forgoing leisure time that I could have enjoyed instead of laboring. This is the fundamental exchange that I am making. I have given up leisure time, traded it away, for the profits to be had from laboring. These profits are then used to increase the quality of my remaining leisure time. Granted, an increase in the division of labor will increase both the quality and quantity of leisure which can be had in exchange for a given amount of labor. But that is all beside the point to analyzing the issue from the point of view of the individual. The individual cannot change the division of labor in society, he can only choose whether to work or relax. If he chooses to work, he is forgoing relaxation, that is, he is settling for a lower quantity of relaxation time. If he chooses to relax, he is choosing to forgo the increased quality of relaxation which he might have had if he had worked for some time and then relaxed for the remaining time. We can think of it as a parametric curve in two dimensions expressed by the following equation:

u + v = T

... where u is some abstract measure of the quality of one's leisure time, v is the quantity of one's leisure time and T is the remaining time a person has left to live. If you give up all leisure time, you could have the maximum quality of it, that is, you would have the maximum amount of money to spend if you did take some leisure time. Conversely, if you give up all labor and spend your time taking your leisure, it will be of the lowest quality since you will have no money whatsoever to spend. This ignores the joy which people take in their labor but I think it gets the basic idea across. If you work, you get less leisure time but it's of higher quality. If you don't work, you get more leisure time but it's of lower quality. On the one end of the spectrum is the workaholic who never takes any leisure time and just works all the time. He is maximizing for quality (presumably). On the other end of the spectrum is the voluntarily homeless man who never labors - he takes his leisure at all times. He is maximizing for quantity. Somewhere between these two extremes are 99.99% of people.

I totally second that, very clear analysis indeed. What I must add, though, is that this cannot yet explain the absence of the division of labor.

 

Now, you hold that there is a trade of between the quantity and quality of leisure time, and that tribesmen just chose a given point in this tradeoff. What this cannot explain is why the division of labor doesn’t exist to a great degree? By simply specializing, by performing the very same “amount” of labor, one can increase productivity. So, divining labor would allow tribesmen to chose either more leisure time given the quality, of chasseing  a more qualitative leisure time given the amount, or more or both. It’s Pareto-superior. Why than they strongly resist the division of labor (if they’re not starving)? I believe only seeing breaking points can explain that.

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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AJ replied on Wed, Feb 24 2010 3:30 AM

Merlin:
My point is that no one seek social status, in this society, for its own sake. If it come along, fine, but if it doesn’t fine nonetheless. There are no jewels but those a woman owns for herself (guns are status indicator in men, but everyone is supposed to have one and one alone), servants are unknowns and even paid labor is rare. And I assume that, taking all the stereotypes any, every  tribal society is rather egaliztarian in social status, with only age and exceptional achievement conferring some “surplus” status. It is certainly so in the Albanian tribes I read about.

Great discussion, guys. Here I agree: it's not social status per se, but rather mating and reproduction that are ever-present urges no matter how roundabout they may present themselves. This is often manifested through seeking higher social status, but not always.

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Torsten replied on Thu, Feb 25 2010 1:24 PM

ClaytonB:
I take exception to the "primitives" conceptualization - I believe so-called "primitives" were much more savvy and intellectually sophisticated than modern scholars give them credit for (this a consequence of our so-called "empirical" anthropology which restricts itself to making the most guarded inferences from the few primitive artifacts we have managed to dig up), and that modern man is much more elemental and primitive than we like to think.

That certainly also depends what "primitives" you are talking about. I'd also be skeptical about the notion of a gradual, progressive change from savages to Barbarians to civilized people like Lewis Morgan proposed:

http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/morgan-lewis/ancient-society/

It's also a misconception that the stone age was necessarily "primitive", there is some indication that the stone age societies in Europe were pretty advanced. Even having sophisticated (rock) building to cool and store food.

Anyone else trying to defend the competetiveness of individualistic anarchy over statelike societies?!

 

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Merlin replied on Thu, Feb 25 2010 3:03 PM

Torsten:
Anyone else trying to defend the competetiveness of individualistic anarchy over statelike societies?!

For Heaven’s sake man, when people hear Rothbard agreeing that Sicily has been “near anarchy” for hundreds of years we loose any shred of credibility in the eyes of the unitiated. What I would think if I where them: “Good Lord, I certainly prefer Hong Kong, which became a global city out of a village in less than 30 years, to Sicily. All hail minarchy!” Without a decent explanation of why anarchy has sucked so much (by our standards) until now, we’ll never get many people on board.

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Bostwick replied on Thu, Feb 25 2010 9:25 PM

Merlin:
Mises made assumptions when erecting the building of praxeology, assumptions that seem perfectly sensible. Positive time-preferences, non-utility of work, human action and longing for a better life. Making such assumptions we’d end up with the economic and social dynamics that Austrian scholars often point out. But perhaps, people have not always wanted a better life.

You have misread Mises. He said that people seek to replace a less desirable situation with a more desirable one. No where did he add that people prefer work over leisure, in fact, he said the opposite.

Why has this society not developed? You've given the answer yourself, it lacks concrete conception of individual property. These people do not possess a different nature than other. They operate under those institutions just as we would expect them to.

Why have these people not sought out better institutions? Its actually not unusual or hard to comprehend, poverty and despotism have been the norms of human existence since as far back as history reaches. Liberty and Progress have been the exception.

This is behind the "paradox of imperialism", that nations with the most liberal domestic institutions take on the most aggressive foreign policies.It is these nations that are able to generate the wealth required to subjugate others. (The examples are endless, the USA of 70 years ago, 19th century Europe in general but especially England, Greek and Roman empires).

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Merlin replied on Fri, Feb 26 2010 1:46 AM

JonBostwick:

Merlin:
Mises made assumptions when erecting the building of praxeology, assumptions that seem perfectly sensible. Positive time-preferences, non-utility of work, human action and longing for a better life. Making such assumptions we’d end up with the economic and social dynamics that Austrian scholars often point out. But perhaps, people have not always wanted a better life.

You have misread Mises. He said that people seek to replace a less desirable situation with a more desirable one. No where did he add that people prefer work over leisure, in fact, he said the opposite.

Why has this society not developed? You've given the answer yourself, it lacks concrete conception of individual property. These people do not possess a different nature than other. They operate under those institutions just as we would expect them to.

Why have these people not sought out better institutions? Its actually not unusual or hard to comprehend, poverty and despotism have been the norms of human existence since as far back as history reaches. Liberty and Progress have been the exception.

This is behind the "paradox of imperialism", that nations with the most liberal domestic institutions take on the most aggressive foreign policies.It is these nations that are able to generate the wealth required to subjugate others. (The examples are endless, the USA of 70 years ago, 19th century Europe in general but especially England, Greek and Roman empires).

 

Says Mises (Human Action, 4rth ed., p.20, emphasis added):

 

“The very existence of ascetics and of men who renounce material

gains for the sake of clinging to their convictions and of preserving

their dignity and self-respect is evidence that the striving after more

tangible amenities is not inevitable but rather the result of a choice.

Of course, the immense majority prefer life to death and wealth

to poverty.”

 

 

From p.180:

 

“We may disregard the philosophy of adamant and consistent

asceticism because such a rigid asceticism must ultimately result in the

extinction of its supporters. All other ideologies, in approving of the search

for the necessities of life, are forced in some measure to take into account

the fact that division of labor is more productive than isolated work. They

thus admit the need for social cooperation.

 

Mises made it clear throughout Human Action (or at least so it seemed to me) that he was assuming that people prefer more over less of whatever gives them utility, all the time. And following his premise it does follow that a market-economy is the best way to go. So if the market economy is not voluntarily chosen by a community for thousands of years, than perhaps the assumption is far too rigid to take at face value.

 

Now, it is true that one could explain tribal societies by the lack of market concepts in them, and even a resistance to their adoption. But I myself find these explanations unsatisfactory. That’s why I’m looking for a deeper cause.  

 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Bostwick replied on Sat, Feb 27 2010 9:21 PM

Merlin:
Now, it is true that one could explain tribal societies by the lack of market concepts in them, and even a resistance to their adoption. But I myself find these explanations unsatisfactory. That’s why I’m looking for a deeper cause.  

A lack of entrepreneurship; caused by the lack of a precedent of cooperation. Trade takes two. No person is going to produce, the necessary precondition of trade, if they foresee no potential buyer.

You asked why don't they grow their herds or clear more land. Well, what would they do with more food than they can eat? You've established that there is little distribution of labor among different families. Even if one family, in an entrepreneurial spirit, devoted themselves entirely to making cheese and abandoned farming, who would they sell the cheese to in exhange for grain? Everyone else already makes both their own cheese and grain.

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Merlin replied on Sun, Feb 28 2010 6:10 AM

JonBostwick:
You asked why don't they grow their herds or clear more land. Well, what would they do with more food than they can eat? You've established that there is little distribution of labor among different families. Even if one family, in an entrepreneurial spirit, devoted themselves entirely to making cheese and abandoned farming, who would they sell the cheese to in exhange for grain? Everyone else already makes both their own cheese and grain.

Agreed. But than we could say so of Europe in the XII century: everyone was making his own food, so why did cities arise? There is clearly something amis here. 

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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