• Greg

Governments will always suck but we need them

I hate the government on a deeply personal level.

As an American, I truly feel disgusted with a number of actions routinely taken by our government including our infinitely occupying other nations with our military, domestically creating the largest prison population in the world, and many many more problems. My personal experiences with the government have been either frustrating, inefficient, meaningless, or detrimental. At some point, you inevitably start questioning why such a large government exists and why we need it.

And yes, we do need this monster.

The first thing to understand about governments is that governments and corporations are exactly the same. Both are just groups of people trying to create value in some market. The first and foremost industry for governments is violence. From soldiers to police to jails, the violence market defines the basis of every government. A government not in the violence business is no government at all.

Many will balk at the idea of a violence industry but its existence is everywhere. The most basic government monopolizes violence over its citizens and then uses this power to extract taxes. Governments are basically a subscription service you have to pay hoping it will limit your exposure to violence while subsequently hoping that the government inflicts appropriate levels of violence on people you think to deserve it.

Maybe your neighbor is too loud and you need to call the gun people to go over and quiet them. Maybe you live during wartime and you need the government to make sure all the violence stays far away. It's really simple. The primary purpose of government is to monopolize violence. Anarchy is simply a competitive violence market.

Hopefully, you've bought into this framing by now but it points to an obvious question, why do we need governments?

Monopolies are pretty much worse in every way for the customer. The prices are higher. The customer service is worse. If you're a customer, you despise monopolies.

The difference with the violence industry is that every living person is part of it. Whether you like it or not, you are susceptible to violence at all times. We should want the buyers of violence to have a tough time. In general, we don't want the violence industry to be perfectly efficient.

And history has shown us this much. As governments have gotten larger and more complicated, the number of humans killing other humans has dropped enormously.

We must recognize that the violence industry underpins everything else as the price of violence impacts every industry. Governments use the promise of violence to change market dynamics in almost every industry. The prices of fraud, theft, murder, and all other sorts of evil are raised by governments creating laws and penalties. Slavery and murdering native Americans were extremely profitable until the American government increased the price with the promise of violence.

In this way, we can see that governments serve an absolutely vital purpose to our society. We started with anarchy. We tried it. It sucked worse.

So how should the government be organized?

Representative democracies are probably about as good as it gets. In theory, they balance the needs of the many with the power of the few. It's really hard to design a more balanced system using people.

The real problem with government is that they are made up of people. People suck. Especially groups of people and strangers. Groups of strangers are absolutely the worst. Familiar people are good but even groups of familiar people can suck sometimes. The only thing most people have in common is self-interest.

How do you possibly get hundreds of millions of people to agree on anything?

The answer isn't clear. It's absurd we've gotten this far.

Perhaps the only reason why any civilization works at all is in the long term, self-interest leads to cooperation. A group of people that cooperates tends to win over isolated individuals. Especially in the violence industry.

The problem now is our structure is so complicated and involves so many people, it's difficult to think about what would make it better. Structuring the government like a company makes no sense as companies don't have to worry about the COO murdering the CEO. Monarchies were evolutionary during their time but now, we clearly have a better system.

We can make some heuristics that do a pretty good job.

1. Until a single human government forms, violence will remain a competitive industry at the international level. Any government must survive in this reality. Our modern peace may have only been achievable with world-ending weapons constantly ready to go.

2. Violence is destructive when improperly applied and constructive when properly applied. Implied violence can diminish actual violence. Intelligently designing our systems of violence can improve the quality of life for almost everyone.

3. The government is just a group of self-interested people. Laws are made-up by self-interested people and then enforced by self-interested people. Only the complicated balancing act of self-interest keeps the system going.

4. Self-interest is at the very root of cooperation. Finding healthy ways to align and communicate that self-interest between increasingly large groups of people is vital. Our society is so incredible because of the way it's enabled more humans to exist in generally better circumstances with almost all of them being self-interested.

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