14 December 2013

A Scale-Free model of reactionary order

@Outsideness asks for a scale-free model of reactionary order. What he means by this is, why do neoreactionaries of the Moldbug variety recommend central authority within a single state, but many small independent sovereign states in the international realm. If one central authority is good for the state, why isn’t it good for the world?

A case for independent sovereign states can be made on ethno-nationalist grounds: there is such a thing as a people, and the customs of one people are not the customs of another people. If another people’s customs are incompatible with my people’s customs, then put a border between us and minimise the conflict.

The Moldbuggians are not primarily ethno-nationalists, however. Patchwork is not a vision of distinct nations, but of distinct states, small and potentially multi-national.

Why small states? @Outsideness suggests: Is it not Moldbug’s ultimate conclusion that domestic authority is parasitic upon global anarchy, which trains it through exit? Meaning, the absolute rulers of states are required to make their realms attractive to live in, in order to compete for productive inhabitants with rival states. If a state grows large enough that exit becomes difficult—through effective border control, or non-existence or scarcity of rivals—then rulers will be more extractive towards their populations.

Hence the request for a scale-free theory. If two (or more) sovereigns within the Kingdom of California are a bad thing, but several sovereigns within the continent of North America are a good thing, where is the line drawn, and why?

My take is that, attractive as Patchwork is, a world of small states would not be stable or sustainable. The Moldbug post linked above, and the three preceding it, describe a world-system of joint-stock sovereign authorities enabled by mechanical, cryptographic enforcement technologies, which I see as not fundamentally impossible, but fragile and highly implausible. If you reject the internal state structure of Patchwork, as most neoreactionaries do, you probably lose the external structure also.

Historically, small states have tended to be swept up by empires. The surviving small states, have survived as compromises between empires—buffer zones or bargaining chips. Thereafter, they have often been exceptionally successful, but their integrity has depended either on agreements between others of the “if you don’t try to annex it, we won’t either” type, or on being a de facto protectorate of an empire that simply can’t be bothered with ruling it actively. That situation assumes that there will be empires; in a world of only small states, some will, by union or conquest, become empires, and the independence of others depends on the action of the empires.

Why not one empire then? That is what the logic of neoreactionary monarchy suggests.

The prediction of rational rule leading to world government is parallel to the old Marxist one of capitalism leading inevitably to monopoly, and I think the flaws of the one argument are essentially the flaws of the other—Change and Diseconomies of Scale.

The Marxist argument is actually correct, in isolation. The example I always used to use to discuss this was zip fasteners. Two companies making zip fasteners will make less profit than one, because the one will be able to extract monopoly rent, and reduce inefficient duplication. And indeed it came to pass, ten years ago when I used to talk about this, that practically every zip fastener in the world was made by one company. I would ask whoever I was talking to about the subject to check the clothing they were wearing, confident that they would find the letters “YKK” on the handle of the zip.

The punchline was that the world zip-fastener monopoly was so economically insignificant, that it was run as a sideline by a Japanese architectural manufacturing company. Because the industry fit the Marxist model—everyone knew how to make zippers, they had been made the same for decades, they were the same in every country—the profit margins had become negligible, and there was little incentive for anyone to compete with YKK for the market. In fact, the argument doesn’t even work any more: zippers are more often plastic than metal, and more variety of products and of manufacturers have emerged.

I think the same considerations apply to states. Microstates suffer from economies of scale in external defence, and outside a variety of niches, are likely to fall to larger, more efficient states. But the returns to scale diminish, and while a state with a population of a billion may still have an advantage over one with a population of a hundred million, other factors could very easily outweigh that advantage. (The ethno-nationalist considerations alluded to earlier serve as one of those other factors).

If the world develops in a way favourable to neoreaction, I would expect the international climate to remain recognisable. There will still be empires, still largish states which have factors such as physical geography or ethnicity preventing them from enlarging or being absorbed, still small states surviving because it’s not worth the cost or inconvenience of annexing them. Probably there will be a good deal less wars fought for the sake of warm fuzzy feels.

Finally, while the option of exit is desirable and beneficial, the neoreactionary argument does not absolutely require it. A world state would presumably be secure enough that he would have no reason to diversify his assets by extracting value from his subjects and investing that value elsewhere; rather, his returns would be maximised by allowing the value of his subjects to grow, which is a good situation to be in for the subject.