Monday, 12 August 2013


The recent protests in Taiwan - on military reform, land theft, power stations and the cross-strait services agreement - are all focused on achieving alterations to the laws under which State agencies act on the belief that such changes will facilitate resolutions to the various problems that provoked the people into protesting in the first place. In some cases the protests may succeed - in the narrow sense of achieving a change in the law, as has happened with the amendment to the court martial procedure to allow civilian prosecution of cases of abuse within the military.

There are currently calls - notably by the Taiwan Rural Front - for revisions to the Land Expropriation Act which would put further legal obstacles in the way of future cases of land theft by local governments.

The protests against the fourth nuclear power plant in Gongliao, Taipei County and the wind turbines in Yuanli, Miaoli County are, in part, motivated by insufficient public consultation prior to construction and there are, in addition, calls for changes to be made to the referendum act.

The government's recently negotiated cross-strait agreement on trade in services is currently being criticized for insufficient protection of Taiwanese industries and workers from Chinese competition; this would seem to be in essence a call for continued and/or enhanced trade protectionism.

My suspicion however, is that these demands for alterations and revisions to existing laws will not have the desired effects in terms of resolving the problems they were intended to solve, but will instead increase and exacerbate those existing practices of corruption, intimidation and deceit necessary to circumvent and undermine the new laws. Labour regulators, license-issuers, inspectors, competitors, neighbours and other stakeholders can all be bought off, threatened, or lied to in various ways and this is what I would expect to happen should the protesters succeed in achieving further alterations to the law. Not only would these be bad consequences in and of themselves, but they might also work to further deteriorate public respect for the concept of a lawful society since the discrepancies between what the law says and what actually happens will become increasingly obvious to more and more people.
"As young people climbed the fence and clashed with police — a common occurrence nowadays — I could not help but think that all that effort, commendable though it was, will amount to little if it is not part of a larger strategy."
That missing "larger strategy" as I have declared time and time again over the past five years ought to be one of depoliticization, i.e. of erasing the government's involvement in functions that properly belong to a free market of willing suppliers and buyers; decisions regarding property, competition and development, the production and distribution of electricity, education and healthcare and of course labour and environmental protections. The only really arguable exception might be national defence due partly to the enormous costs involved and the necessity that that defence be maintained over time with no time gaps for market development which could be exploited by a military foe.

A transformation toward a more free-market economy would not yield perfect results, it may not even yield results with which a majority of people are happy, but it would at least require an explicit social commitment to an ethics of voluntary cooperation and reciprocity that already saturates Taiwanese society in implicit understandings between buyers and sellers, between neighbours and between friends.

But it will not happen, in large measure because it would require an immediate sea-change in the outlook of those academics and other apparent leaders of the various protests, not to mention the rank members whose names will never be mentioned in the newspapers.


  1. What would prevent "those existing practices of corruption, intimidation and deceit" being carried over to a depoliticized "more free market economy"?

    What will stop the stakeholders in a more libertarian society from being "bought off, threatened, or lied to in various ways"?

    "But it will not happen, in large measure because it would require an immediate sea-change in the outlook of those academics and other apparent leaders of the various protests, not to mention the rank members whose names will never be mentioned in the newspapers."

    I think the real reason is that human nature simply doesn't allow for reasoned cooperation of the kind that you'd like to see. There are pricks in every rose bush and there will certainly be someone who'll rise to the top to crush the free market under his sociopathic boot.

  2. I might have more time to answer this properly either tommorow or thursday...

  3. Steve,

    I've been too busy - when I haven't been working or eating, I've been running around on various other errands that can't be neglected. By the time I get home, it's usually after 10pm and I still have to take all six dogs to the park, two at a time - a two hour task - and then I still have to eat and do the laundry etc...

    You write:

    "...human nature simply doesn't allow for reasoned cooperation of the kind that you'd like to see. There are pricks in every rose bush and there will certainly be someone who'll rise to the top to crush the free market under his sociopathic boot."

    The objection is under-specified ("... of the kind you'd like to see"), but I think it's wrong anyway. Human nature does - obviously - allow for reasoned cooperation, since we engage in this all the time; society would not be possible without it. The market is not perfectly free, but it does contain countless examples of reasoned cooperation that take place every single day of the year. The question properly put is not whether human nature allows for reasoned cooperation, but whether it allows for coercion to be minimized. Clearly, human nature does allow for coercion as well as reasoned cooperation and therefore the question cannot be one of eliminating coercion, but must necessarily be one of whether coercion can be minimized to some degree.

    Societies are obviously not constant in the degree of coercion that pervades them; there was a vast difference between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. There is a vast difference between 19th Century Britain and today's Britain. And so on. So clearly coercion varies by degree and it is quite easy to see why this is; it is because the concentrated apparatus of coercion - government - may vary in the composition, scope and extent of its powers. For what it's worth, I think that with the prevalence of democratic forms what we need to worry about is less the super-sociopaths with their big boots, but all the little people who simply can't be bothered with the compromises and imperfect solutions of reasoned cooperation and are far more likely to join political gangs (not "parties") so that they can just make up all manner of stupid laws to impose on everyone else.

    Putting the question once more then, it really is only a matter of how far coercion can be minimized and what is required to achieve this in any given case. Perhaps the easiest conception for a libertarian order is the re-establishment a nation-state on libertarian lines with the government responsible only for collective defense against foreign governments and for laying down basic premises of law, for which the courts and law enforcement offices could be privatized.

    But of course the real question is how to get there from here. That's far more difficult to answer.

    1. more difficult to answer?!?!?! Mike, are you saying you don't like difficult things? lol

  4. Also...

    "What would prevent "those existing practices of corruption, intimidation and deceit" being carried over to a depoliticized "more free market economy"? "

    Free competition. Not just in things like law enforcement, but in labour and product certification markets. Corruption, intimidation and deceit will never be "prevented" as such, but they are much easier things to do when you have a monopoly. And a monopoly is a very difficult thing to get (and crucially - to maintain) under conditions of free competition. On the other hand, monopolies are much easier to get AND to maintain when you've got legislators you can lobby whose law-passing powers are limited only by horse-trading considerations.

    1. i think something that is missing for that is uncertainty.

      99.9% of people are quite unable to inform themselves on matters that are of importance. they dont know what they need to know...and really don't care either. relying on others to acquire and distribute the necessary info to manage uncertainty is easily marketized...because ppl want to do things that they believe are more important than getting the info themselves...sort of the basis of representation i guess.

      that affords opportunity to influence others in ways that may be perceived as negative; lying and intimidate.... actors being able to organize monopolizing or at least domination of the distribution channels for info are unavoidable aren't they?

    2. Phillipe, your "99.9%" is pre-judged. The assumption that "most" people are hopelessly ignorant (i.e. "unable to inform themselves...") is unwarranted on two counts: 1) you overestimate the knowledge requirements - at the end of the day, what's important is that taking stuff from people by force is wrong and I would think most people (i.e. those who didn't go to university) already understand this, and 2) it is not difficult to distribute information (the internet provides vast leverage), the difficulty is in keeping certain information from your opponents (the NSA or local equivalent slurping all of our communications).

    3. but even without the NSA involvement with the internet....certain portals (search engines, service providers) have actually always had a predominance of influence of what and how info is distributed...just look at how searches are ranked. the internet is just a new structure, a supra structure of sorts that reinforces pre-existing structural institutions. this is obvious by who controls the bottlenecks of the internet.

      as for knowledge, requirements is one thing...but assessing what is a sufficient amount of knowledge is another. there are ppl with so much knowledge that still think they dont have enough to make a decision...and there are others who have too little (like me lol) who think they know enough to make a decision....the 99.9 is figurative (i dont have a clue on that number)...but it's not far off.

      i guess my point is the majority of ppl dont care if they have the capability. they are very willing disown that capability and have others supposedly gather the info and present the info in nice packages that actually gives the answer, too...ideology illustrates seems irrational but yet compelling. it is actually an amazing tool of efficiency that aggregates ideas without the need to go into details...

  5. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for responding, I appreciate it.

    "But of course the real question is how to get there from here. That's far more difficult to answer."

    I think that's the crux of it, right there. When you look at how (as you mentioned) societies like Britain's have changed over the long term, the change is enormous, but it's difficult to appreciate the steps that had to be taken in the short term to get from one to the other. It's even more difficult to see how today's society can get out of its current mess because there are a great many people (many in positions of power) who don't WANT society to change in such a fundamental way.

    (I originally wrote a lot more but deleted it because upon re-reading it all, it seemed to be an objection to libertarian society on the grounds that within a generation or two it would simply be overturned by a psychopathic member of the population who wanted to set himself up as dictator. I'm not sure it makes sense for me to complain about a political system on those grounds because psychopaths/sociopaths will always exist in human groups and the fact that they will try and subvert a system for their own benefit shouldn't be an argument against implementing a better system in the first place [it becomes a "why bother" argument which would make me one of the "little people"]. Indeed, making such an objection against libertarianism in particular assumes that a libertarian society is inherently more susceptible to overthrow and subversion than the societies we presently see around the world and I have no grounds upon which to make that assumption given the amount of corruption present in today's governments).

  6. Well I would think a large part of the answer (how to go from here to there), is down to unintended consequences. Our inability to predict has two aspects; first, it means we can't successfully plan our way from here to there, assuming we can agree on where "there" is - there will always be a large element of ad-hoc adaptation; second, it means the sociopaths* can't plan long-term either - when certain things change, then those of them particularly effected by these changes simply won't know what hit them and won't be able to do a thing about it.

    The other thing is speed; if the politicians and their various cling-ons have time to react, then they will react, but if events occur at a pace they can't keep up with, then they will find themselves washed away. This is one reason I am ambivalent about a hyperinflation of one of the major currencies; it's going to wipe out lots of people very quickly, but the advent of Bitcoin (and there will surely be others soon) means that some of the alternative infrastructure that (largely) precludes government control is already in place. Other things might include water recycling technology (already here, but there is an incentive problem to mass adoption) and the so-called "ultra-capacitors" that are being worked on right now; those two right there could potentially eliminate centralized control of water and electricity. In respect of self-defense, the 3D printer gun is a bit daft in a practical sense (and you can already make much better metal-based guns in a workshop with fairly simple tools if you have the handbook), but it might be pointing to a way forward: surely it is only a matter of time before the machines are using materials better than plastics.

    In any case, the spread of information via the web is the most important thing because it is ideas that have to change first for there to be consequences in anything else. And then even a more libertarian-esque order is not going to be perfect and there are going to be lots of problems; at least because we can't eliminate ignorance and fallibility.

    *That word "sociopaths" is no good in this context really; bad people are not always sociopaths, and I'm not sure that sociopaths are always bad people - it's enough if someone is merely possessed by bad ideas.


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