The Platonic Guardians of the Socialist State

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

The Platonic guardians of the socialist state, Mencius Moldbug says, persistently prefer bad ideas — but not because they’re bad people:

Why, with its intellectual firepower, can progressivism not self-correct? After all, its public-policy experts are supposed to be scientists. They publish papers — with numbers. Surely this makes them scientists, and science is self-correcting, ie, always right.

Alas. Not everyone who writes papers with numbers is a scientist. The most you can say is that your subject is either a scientist, or a pseudoscientist. Also, while it is correct to note that science can be self-correcting, it is incorrect to assume that it must be, ie, is incorruptible. Nothing whatsoever is incorruptible — certainly not science.

The Platonic guardians of the socialist state — scientists, planners, bureaucrats, or whatever you call them — persistently prefer bad ideas because of the organizational structure of the socialist state. Again, democracy is the fundamental and irrecoverable flaw.

Because socialism is democratic, it distrusts, opposes and tends to destroy organizational structures which are built on (a) hierarchical command, (b) personal responsibility, and/or (c) financial interests. Your socialist state will never produce a structure in which a single planner is responsible for, say, North Carolina; can fire whomever he likes in the administration of North Carolina; and gets fired himself, if North Carolina does not blossom into a subtropical Eden. This is an organizational structure that one might find in, say, the British Raj. It is not democratic in nature, nor socialist.

Instead, the socialist state divides power and spreads it as widely as possible — within itself, of course. Its decisions are not personal, but procedural. A procedure is a better procedure if it cuts more stakeholders into the loop — if it is a more open process. Here we see clearly what the State is doing: it is building a support base from its own employee roster, and it is purchasing support by exchanging it for power. The feeling of being in the decision loop produces a remarkable effect of emotional loyalty, no matter how trivial the actual authority may be.

There is just a slight downside to this: when socialism fails, no one is responsible. No system of ideas, even, can be responsible — for a system of ideas would be an ideology, and public policy is not determined by ideology. Thus many will tell you that economics failed in the crisis of 2008, but no one can possibly do anything about it. Certainly, no producer of economic wisdom in the universities, nor consumer in Washington, need feel even slightly threatened. Tenure is tenure, and civil-service protection is civil-service protection. Our masters serve for life.

Moreover, in an environment where failure confers no punishment, we would expect bad policies to outcompete good ones. Much as islands without predators are dominated by flightless birds. Freed from the need to actually succeed, the bad policies can offer everything to everyone — permanently. But alas, no dodo is forever.

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