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Why Do Governments Exist

Why Do Governments Exist

Ask a political science professor why governments exist and you’re likely to hear a restatement of Enlightenment Era theories of the social contract. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others reasoned that the first governments arose from a more or less explicit agreement between the sovereign and the governed. Each philosopher interpreted the terms of mankind’s original governing agreement slightly differently, but the aim of their work was not to explore history. Their interpretation of government’s origins were a weapon in the fight to limit royal power in an age of absolutism.

Historians describe the origins of government in different terms, as an institution that evolved to solve collective action problems created by the rise of settled agriculture. We did not always have governments, just as humans did not always have saddles, books or smart phones. An evolutionary adaptation successful one environment may not be retained in the next.

There is evidence that our ancestors were engaged in small-scale agriculture for thousands of years before the first civilizations emerged. Cultivating seeds in meadows then returning to harvest the grain appears to have been a common practice of our nomadic forbears. In time they discovered significant differences in yields on certain patches of land. These particularly fertile lands became valuable enough to protect and rich enough to support people in numbers too large to be organized in extended family groups.

Left untended, these more productive fields would not develop their potential. Left unprotected, they could be easily destroyed by rival humans, or by animals. To realize the power of organized agriculture our ancestors needed to abandon a nomadic lifestyle and settle in large groups. Living together in large numbers required more sophisticated social organizations, systems that would allow them to cooperate on a scale beyond their clans.

Settling on a patch of land in numbers in the hundreds or even thousands created collective action problems humans had never previously encountered. Research on remaining groups of pre-civilized humans suggests that our nomadic ancestors lived by consensus rather than by authority. Collective action problems among nomads were solved by direct communication, with some deference granted to elders or accomplished members. They had no need for mass communication, no need to coordinate activities with people they had never met and did not implicitly trust. Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, has theorized a cognitive limit to the size of our stable relationships at about 150. This has come to be called Dunbar’s number, and it is also the rough average size of hunter-gather bands (148). Governments evolved to solve the problem of collective action among groups larger than Dunbar’s number.

Those earliest collective action problems had two dimensions, organization and communication. What should each of us do to accomplish our common objectives, and how we should we communicate these plans? Earlier, smaller bands of humans could solve collective action problems in a discussion around a fire. Primitive Northern European civilizations were still trying to leverage these simple techniques as late as the Dark Ages, gathering in “moots” to retain some collective decision-making. Successful early civilizations developed hierarchies, placing decision-making authority in relatively few hands. It’s no accident that the invention of written language coincides with the emergence of the first civilizations. Writing helped address the problem of communication among groups larger than Dunbar’s number, though that communication was limited to elites. Leveraging the power of an agricultural society meant replacing the consensus model of our nomadic ancestors with hierarchical structures only possible with a government.

We are not ants. We are not evolved for mass collective action or mass cooperation, and have always chafed under the demands of civilization and government. Many of history’s most successful governments adapted means to spread power very broadly, either in the manner of the Roman Republics, or through the pyramid style of feudal societies. But we never fully shed our lingering discomfort with the sovereignty lost from settled life.

A few humans have evolved in more or less continuous civilizations for perhaps as much as 8000 years. However, it was not until roughly 1500 years ago that even a majority of humans were civilized. Agriculture has been a part of our existence for less than 1% of our evolutionary history. Governments have been a feature of lives for an even smaller portion of our development.

Evidence of our ancestors’ frustrations with civilized life survive in some of our earliest literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh celebrates an uncivilized hero, Enkidu, sent by the gods to relieve the oppression of a king. The Old Testament describes the origin of kingship as a punishment on a sinful people who failed the challenge of collective action and abdicated their God-given authority. Joining together in a well-formed, intelligently organized government provides human societies with spectacular power, but the challenges of communicating and channeling public will in government action have always rendered these structures unstable. Government is an unstoppably successful innovation that is also an entirely unnatural human experience.

We might seek at different times to escape the reach of government, but its greatest, most irreplaceable power extends to the further corners of the world. The most vital collective action problem governments solve is organizing defense and warfare. In an environment in which power and wealth rise from control of land, war is the skill that trumps all others. Throughout our history, governments could successfully neglect many if not most of their potential so long as they retained their skill for violence. Government was forged in war, and war remains its most irreplaceable function. When land ceases to be the primary form of wealth, war loses much of its utility.

The relevance of war to human success was shaken by the development of capitalism and industrialization, creating a rival to land as a source of wealth and power. Monarchies fell like dominoes as their relative power in land was dwarfed by those who embraced the power of machines. With absolutism constrained by rule of law, a true private sector began to emerge around commerce. Commercial power grew into a rival to government power, providing a means of organization that in many ways (as demonstrated by the Soviet experiment) often solved collective action problems better than governments.

Governments continued to wage wars, but those wars steadily ceased to yield either power or prosperity. Thanks to the declining relative value of land as a source of wealth, capturing territory was like grasping water with a fist. If there was a benefit to the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries it was the ways those wars weakened and often destroyed archaic governments.

Is government still necessary? Yes, but we are living through the most exciting and perhaps frightening challenge to the relevance of government since we first settled into villages.

Governments evolved to address collective action problems caused by our difficulty in mass communication and the challenge of mass decision-making. A thriving private sector, driven (today) by commerce, offers a primitive model for mass organization with potential to challenge hierarchical governments. The Internet now opens new possibilities for mass communication.

A communication technology that, for the first time, allows a single human being to communicate in real time across the entire span of humanity knocks down a crucial pillar of government. This blog post is available to roughly 3 billion people. Everyone with access to a cell phone is now a broadcaster. Yet Dunbar’s number still frustrates our efforts to forge broader bonds.

A strange thing is happening as the technical boundaries to mass organization fall. Boundaries in our biology remain. I may be able to broadcast to 3 billion people, but we can each only hear and process a few voices. Through Facebook, this blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and other communication and organization platforms I’ve forged links to thousands of people, but I still interact with relatively few. Something strange is evolving in this new environment. We are using hyper-modern communication technologies to recreate our comfy pre-civilized tribes, but this time those tribes stretch across vast geographies and even borders. Our reach has extended, but our ability to forge mass, peer to peer collaboration beyond Dunbar’s number remains constrained.

The Arab Spring demonstrated the promise and persistent limits of our use of technology to organize ourselves. Crowd-sourced revolutions were successful in toppling autocratic regimes, but they have almost universally failed to replace them. So far, the advent of powerful new capabilities for resolving collective action problems has brought more chaos than progress. We have weakened not just government, but every form of hierarchical social power, without forging any replacement.

It seems likely for the near term that the most prosperous human societies will be the ones capable of retaining strong central governments rather than the ones that shed them. However, challengers to this assumption may already be nascent. We take for granted the inevitable necessity of formal government, but across much of Africa, Central Asia and Latin America, governments are notional institutions, their authority largely constrained to a capital and one or two cities. They consist of a security service protecting a class of kleptocrats and do nothing for the public interest. Out of some of these chaotic places new forms of social organization are emerging, and out of these new arrangements is coming a strange new economics. There is a chance that a post-governmental path to stability is being blazed in Lagos and Dhaka and Karachi, where a dynamic order built on commerce and cheap communications technology is emerging in the absence of government planning or services.

Today these places are a mad warren of chaos and insecurity, yet a promising future might be emerging from this tangle. If anyone is going to leverage our cheap new communications tools to break the limits of Dunbar’s number, it will most likely occur in these ungoverned corners. They may be the unlikely birthplace of a new, happier human order.

In 17th century Europe, England looked like a basket case. While France’s Louis XIV demonstrated the glory of absolute monarchy and the Spanish crown conquered the globe, England murdered its king, placed power in the hands of a parliament, then tottered from crisis to crisis with no stability in sight. A few decades later, French absolutism would die at the guillotine. Spain would smother and stagnate under religious rule. Meanwhile an increasingly decentralized Britain became the world’s greatest empire. Great transformations don’t arrive with blueprints.

Government remains necessary not because it is irreplaceable, but because we haven’t replaced it. Like civilization itself, it has existed for a brief slice of our evolution. Like organized religion, forced labor, and monarchy, it will be essential for human survival until it isn’t.


This post is part of a series exploring what’s next after liberal democracy and what we should do to prepare. Much of this material was covered in The Politics of Crazy, though from the perspective of a more optimistic era. The work fits better as a whole, but reading through a 6000+ word piece on a computer seems impractical. When these are complete I’ll gather them into a series of links on a single page.


  1. I think I’m finally beginning to grasp your thesis. Essentially, liberal democracies were required to provide the backdrop (private property rights, rule of law, etc.) for true private industry to rise, and now, private industry is about to outcompete liberal democratic governments in the spheres where govt traditionally never faced competition. While I’ve stated my objections before (namely that what passes for private industry now is not all that private, and not much different than corporations like the EIC — or the Rothschilds vs banks now — which did not do so well in the past, which means you might be overestimating their ability to compete in traditionally govt roles), I do think there’s something to your hypothesis. I would add the following points / questions that need to be fleshed out:

    1) Are you sure the revolution will be against liberal democracy and not private industry? It doesn’t matter which one is more adaptable in theory if the masses rise up and kill it anyway.

    If the original human communities were small, egalitarian, and consensus-driven, it took tens of thousands of years from the time humans first settled into farming roles for a suffocating, inherited aristocracy to dominate the political structure. It then took chopping their heads off in the French Revolution for an aristocracy based on land rights to die.

    From then, things were somewhat in flux for maybe a hundred years: it was not uncommon for rich industrialists to marry their children to penniless aristocrats still carrying important-sounding titles because the vestiges of aristocratic privilege still had worth, and nouveau riche capitalists were still disadvantaged in the true halls of powerful society.

    It could have easily reverted to another monarchy or even worse (e.g. the Jacobins and their Reign of Terror). Fortunately for us, England’s Industrial Revolution gave Europe a new system that was just waiting for the power vacuum of the French Revolution for it to take hold. And it did.

    But that’s not always the case. The Bolshevik Revolution was also against a long-standing monarchy that WWI had proven was no longer useful nor able to control a vast nation. But they didn’t replace it with private enterprise. They replaced it with Communism, and led their nation down a blind, bloody alley for the next 80 years.

    In our country, a new aristocracy based on capital is fully in place, with complete control of governmental power, and they pass on their inherited privileges with about the same efficiency as the landed aristocrats of yore. And amazingly, it’s only taken a few hundred years for capitalism to recreate what agriculture needed tens of thousands of years.

    Is it possible that in the next revolution then, the hoi polloi will chop off the heads of the capitalists? You can argue that capitalism has lifted billions of people out of poverty, that private industry is much more efficient than govt, etc. etc. But I’m sure aristocrats were advancing the same arguments, right up to the guillotine. They might have been right too, since aristocracy and feudalism did indeed lift Europe from the post-Roman Dark Ages, and gave rise to the conditions for the Renaissance that ultimately led to their decapitations. Evolution is rife with examples where the “objectively” better adapted species went extinct, while the maladapted one somehow managed to survive.

    In this case, I think having a purely rational analysis of which system of structuring society, such as these series of articles, discounts the unpredictable, emotional, irrational component of most revolutions. Occupy Wall St. protested outside the NYSE and major bank headquarters. As much as I love what they did, if they knew anything about finance and the real causes of the financial crisis, they would be protesting in front of Congress, the Federal Reserve, and Bill Clinton’s house. Goldman Sachs is just the outward face of a regulatory state so thoroughly captured and deliberately broken that calling it socialized losses is inadequate: it’s more like privatizing the treasury.

    Nevertheless, the protests were against Wall St., and the demands were for bankers to go to jail, rather than Greenspan, Gramm, Leach and Blilely (for the record, my personal belief is that the guillotine is plenty sharp enough for the bankers, the Fed Chief, *and* the sponsors of the bill that repealed Glass-Steagall 🙂 ). These days, not even a tiny fraction of stock trades go through the NYSE and yet that’s the site of numerous various protests about various parts of our broken financial system.

    My point is, evolution doesn’t proceed in a straight line, and human beings aren’t always rational. Even if your argument is correct that private industries have advantages which make their success inevitable in the long run, it’s not clear that the next revolution to replace our current form of government will follow along those lines.

    2) WRT War. Have you ever read the book _War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning_ by Chris Hedges? It’s a phenomenal book that essentially argues its title, and very convincingly. You shouldn’t feel uneasy about war’s power to unite: just about the only way to consistently unite your own group and overcome your own internal divisions is to create a powerful Other to hate. And the deeper your own divisions, the more powerful and hate-inspiring the Other needs to be painted as. Every once in a while that boils over into actual violence.

    Call me darkly cynical but you can’t have an “us” without a “them”. But I view myself as an optimist 🙂 as long as that hatred doesn’t spill over to outward violence, it can be useful. While Indians and Pakistanis hate each other from the time of partition, the truth is, if there was no partition of those two nations, India probably would have broken up into numerous small states. The only thing that kept India together as a secular democracy instead of splitting along its numerous cultural, linguistic, and historical divisions, was the uniting force of their hatred for Pakistan. The same can be said for Pakistan and its numerous fault lines. Is a Cold War between two large but fairly rational states (e.g. US vs USSR, or even India vs Pakistan) worse than a hot war among numerous small failed states (e.g. the balkans, or central Africa?) I don’t know…

    3) WRT the new powers of communication. Here, I am an unabashed pessimist. The relative freedom and power of a new communication technology is not based on the technical ability of the technology, but on the political control of said technology. That is, it doesn’t matter if the internet right now allows you to reach 3 billion people. If the government eventually thinks that’s dangerous, it can ensure that you will reach 0 people, regardless of what the underlying technology of the internet might actually allow you to do.

    The only reason the government allows you, Chris, to reach 3 billion people is because it hasn’t deemed you a significant threat to its power (yet; rise up fellow political orphans! 🙂 ). The only reason it allows facebook to exist is because it’s also not a threat, and indeed is useful for our modern surveillance state. The minute that the government senses the internet is being harnessed to overthrow it, or even restrict its powers in some way, literally the next day it will be shut off, or changed. For me, the surprise came when the US govt tried to shut down wikileaks. Until then, only China and other authoritarian regimes closed off parts of the internet. Not “free and open” democracies like the U.S. But the minute wikileaks threatened to expose the lies underpinning our Global War on Terror, it was completely shut down. Servers were blocked. DNS entries were cancelled. Even credit card processors were pressured to not allow donations to wikileaks. Plus, just the possibility that even trying to visit their pages would land you on some FBI watch list was enough to deter most people that might have been curious (the best form of Foucault’s panopticon ever imagined).

    IOW, the govt has plenty of tools to ensure you will never reach 3 billion people if it doesn’t want you to, regardless of the capabilities of the actual technology. As long as social media is used to post cat videos and pictures of your *amazing* avocado toast, the govt has no problem letting you reach 3 billion people. Try to post a video of Iraqi civilians dying from a U.S. drone strike and see how many people you reach before the FBI seizes your computers and ensures you’ll never have access to an internet connection more capable than two tin cans and a string.

    This has happened before. The internet is not unique in its ability to communicate around the world. Shortwave radio allows signals to be broadcast worldwide with very simple emitters. Hobbyists can easily pick up international signals from European, African, and Asian radio stations with equipment that costs less than internet-capable mobile phones. And before the internet, this was the main way to get news “from the source” if you lived far away. But radio was brought under strict licensing and regulatory regimes (for its own good of course…) decades ago, and posting anything too incendiary will be sure to get your license revoked.

    The internet is new enough that it’s not completely under control just yet. It’s also too new to be effectively used as a political force. As soon as it does, government will spin into action. Whenever its existence is threatened, it always somehow manages to act with blinding speed.

    If you think that the internet will somehow become a political force while evading the type of political control that will render it neutered, you haven’t studied communications: the story of every new communication technology from Gutenberg’s printing press, to radio, to tv, to the internet, is one of idealistic inventors creating ways to make it easier for people not in power to spread knowledge to the masses, and governments neutering that goal while harnessing it for its own propaganda purposes. The internet will be no different (if it already isn’t).

    So bottomline: I may grant you your theory, and may even agree with large parts of it on a theoretical, rational basis. But human revolutions are notoriously hard to predict which way they end up 🙂

    1. Excellent comments, WX. As the original post is “What comes after liberal democracy” I’ve been thinking about “What comes after capitalism.” If capitalism is what we want to call the current economic regime, which is shaped more than some people realize by government and vice versa. Here’s a couple of articles:

    2. This is really good stuff WX. I would suggest though that rather than the internet not being a political force, it already is, just one balkanized into wildly disparate factions. You’ve got the InfoWars and Stormfront types, you’ve got Louise Mensch’s groupies, etc. The internet was successfully used for change during the Arab Spring, but governments have caught on. I agree that it seems unlikely that major power governments will ever be caught seriously off-guard by their own citizen’s use of the internet. OTOH, the US was blind-sided by the Russian election hacking and social media campaign.

      Slightly off-topic, but the West is going to have to get a lot better and defending or counter-striking against cyber-warfare.
      (If you’re out of free articles with Wired, open in incognito window, or google “maersk notpetya” for other versions of the story.)

  2. Somewhat related to the current topic, definitely related to past topics. This is coming, soon, or rather, will try to be implemented in western nations, now that the two most populous nations on the planet are going down that path. Nothing like big data companies working with the government to track every movement of every human on the planet.

    Me, I am of the mind to start blowing up data farms over this.

  3. WAR – What is it Good For!

    Have you read Peter Turchin’s – Ultrasociety – ?
    How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth

    Cooperation is difficult in terms of evolution because of the “free loader” problem
    If everybody is cooperating then a selfish bastard has a significant advantage

    But War changes that – if you have too many “Selfish Bastards” your tribe loses and you all die

    Without “War” we would all be like the chimps – instead of the incredible cooperators that we have become

    War is a vital part of our past – part of how we got here

    BUT – NOW – it’s useless
    It’s even worse than useless!
    How would the USA have been if you had simply given every body in Afghanistan and Iraq $20,000 to spend on US goods?

    50 million people x $20,000 = $1 trillion – or about half of what you have already spent!

    1. Thinking about this led me in some unpleasant directions. Perhaps our greatest period of internal harmony, relative middle income prosperity and social/racial reform was what we should probably call The Long War, or The War That Didn’t Really End, from the late 30’s to the early nineties.

      WW2 did not end as cleanly as we tend to describe, slowing instead into a simmering global conflict. Under the sobering conditions of that long, terrifying existential threat, we found ways to collaborate that had eluded us across our entire history, not just here in the US but also with allies in Europe and Asia. All that forced sobriety and unity went up in smoke across a few short years after the Wall came down.

      The fascists manufactured wars to produce the social unity they craved. The Russians and Americans are doing something similar now, but I don’t think it works anymore. It doesn’t yield any financial gains. It has no coherent political logic. And there’s no ideology left to fight for. I don’t think we can count on war to shore up the raisan d’etre of the state.

      That leaves us in a very awkward position of searching for a set of stories, myths and of course, hard consequential realities that will incent people to compromise a significant portion of their own well-being in favor of some form of collective entity. That’s a life or death challenge and I don’t see anyone even thinking about. All that’s emerging now is a new kind of hyper-balkanized identity politics that’s supposed to form the basis of coalitions, but seems to only render us into an ungovernable, uncooperative mass.

      We don’t need war anymore, but we don’t know how to survive without it.

      1. Hi Chris
        we found ways to collaborate that had eluded us across our entire history,

        If you actually look at history we have been REDUCING war and violence for several thousand years
        The overall trend has been downwards for ever! – the last 70 years is a continuation of that trend (with “spikes” – its a trend not a slope)

        One of the great “Truths” that I used to believe was that people were not improving – Pinker’s – The Better Angels of our Nature – used data to show that I had been WRONG

        His later book “Enlightenment Now” is a lot more general but still well worth a read

      2. We don’t need war anymore, but we don’t know how to survive without it.

        I’m hoping that is just “us” the old brain damaged fogeys – and our kids can manage better

        Horribly I think the middle east is still using lead

        “but some countries still use leaded gasoline. These countries are Algeria, Iraq, Yemen, Myanmar, North Korea, and Afghanistan”

      3. George Carlin: “Have you ever noticed that the only metaphor we have in our public discourse for solving problems is to declare war on it? We have the war on crime, the war on cancer, the war on drugs.”

        I’d add the corollary: we never use war-like terms to describe our actual wars, which are all about “surgical strikes”, “precision operations”, and of course, “collateral damage”.

        Also, I’m not so sure war no longer has any financial gains. First, for the military-industrial complex, it has plenty of gains. For the rest, it’s what passes for industrial policy in our supposedly non-socialist, free-enterprise economy. Ask Boeing, IBM, or even SpaceX how they’d do without military contracts. The federal highway system was built to allow the Pentagon to constantly move nuclear warheads around on mobile truck platforms around the country (since moving by rail was easy to spot by Russian satellites). And DARPA invented the internet because it needed a network technology robust enough to work even if large parts of it (e.g. critical routers) were destroyed during warfare.

        But even your traditional conception of warfare as a means to acquire land is not complete. In the past, there were wars for trading rights e.g. Commodore Perry landed his navy ships in Tokyo Bay not to claim Japanese land for the U.S., but to force them to open up for trading. Similarly, the Opium Wars between Britain and China were not about territory so much as trading rights and the right of Britain to import heroin (thereby creating a debilitating heroin addiction throughout the cities of coastal China, and reducing China’s global GDP share by half in less than a century). Although Britain did gain Hong Kong as an outright colony, that was not the primary benefit that Britain derived from those wars.

        To go even further back, the Crusades were fought for religious and ethnic purposes.

        Even today, we fight wars in Latin America as part of our War on Drugs and War on Communism without ever taking sovereignty over actual land. And who can deny the religious / ethnic component of our Global War on Terror? The most frightening form of war might be War as Entertainment. Which I think we’re getting close to these days. Do any of us really care what’s going on in Iraq or Afghanistan, the two longest wars in our country’s history? Where’s Ted Koppel reminding us how many days it’s been? Or is it just background noise to fill up some time in between reruns of the Kardashians? Shock and Awe sounds like something Hollywood would dream up (and probably did).

        War doesn’t have to yield financial gains to be useful. For that matter, it doesn’t really have to be useful for some idiot to start one (Trump, meet Kim Jong-un; George Bush, meet Osama bin Laden).

  4. I know that this isn’t what the post is about and that “How Do You Arrest The President” has just gotten a lot more interesting, but I can’t help myself:

    “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    1. Chris I think will likely address these recent revelations. I could be wrong, but we will see.

      I was admonished not to post my views regarding this cabal, but to hell with that.

      We know with complete certainty that the Senate will not confirm an impeachment, regardless of the circumstances. Mathematically, we know the Dems can’t control 67 seats after the midterms.

      We also know that the entire election in 2016 was illegitimate, and all appointments, executive orders, even laws, since then are the fruit of a poisoned tree. Since the fascists in the Senate have abrogated all their responsibilities, and the military and intelligence organizations seem incapable doing the right thing, it falls upon the citizenry to do what is needed. That entails removing all appointments since Jan 20th 2017, by any means necessary. That means eradicating the traitors that orchestrated the coup, with the assistance of the enemy, russia. That means removing any person that stands in the way of a government that actually does the bidding of the will of the majority.

      For those that still cling to a non-violent approach, or still fantasize about some magic will convince the Senate to vote for impeachment, or that the country can weather another 28 months of this tyranny and still have intact institutions and democracy and then vote this cabal out…well, sorry, you are dead wrong.

      Chris’s series here talks about the Next Thing, but that thing will not happen in the next 28, or 76 months. If anything replaces democracy in that time frame it will be an old thing, autocracy, unless the masses rise up.

      1. Sorry for the gibberish. Let me repeat.

        Of the two, I think Conen copping a plea is the most significant, because without mentioning names, he directly implicated Trump in illegally influencing the election. That is getting close to “high crimes and misdemeanors.” We need to wait and see how much he cooperates with Mueller now.

        Regarding the Manafort situation, he will certainly appeal, but this verdict will put a lot more pressure on him to cooperate. It also points to a guilty verdict in the DC trial starting next month. Of course Manafort is probably counting on a pardon from T.

        Now if the November election does indeed confirm that the blue wave is a tsunami, then the stage is set for a thorough congressional investigation, and perhaps impeachment. I still do not see how T will ever be convicted by the Senate, but an impeachment on substantive charges which approach the high bar set by the Constitution, not a ‘trumped-up’ political deal such as the Clinton impeachment would seriously damage Trump and perhaps result in that fanciful flight to Moscow, discussed previously.

      2. I think impeachment would be a mistake. If the House flips, and the Senate closes to a split, you neuter Trump. If the Senate flips, you could do the same thing to him that Obama had to deal with. Trump would go crazy.

        Add a steady drip of Muller digging into things Trump wants left unseen, like tax returns, and I bet he resigns. That is a better result than having impeachment die in the Senate IMHO.

      3. Mike – Good Points and I do not disagree. I am so frustrated by the incompetence, lies and corruption of the Trump Administration that I want him neutered and out of there ASAP by some lawful means. Resignation, even by a late night trip to Moscow would be acceptable. Even though Pence would be bad, he would not have the total disregard for norms that Trump has. In any case the system can deal with Pence and he would not have the large cohort of crazy and authoritarian followers that Trump has.

      4. There is one reason that I like impeachment and that in no way detracts from Mike’s comments. Putting substantive charges on the table that meet the standards of “high crimes and misdemeanors” would go a long way towards rebalancing the power between the executive and legislative branches. Of the three cases of impeachment, two were obviously political. They ended with the Senate failing to confirm. in the third, that of Nixon, he resigned and was pardoned. That was the only one with underlying charges that met the constitutional standard. This situation I feel has partially led to the executive feeling that he (or she) is above the law. If impeachment had been used for substantial charges and resulted in punishment, the executive might be far more cautious.

        Also, if the legislative branch had more real power, the extremists might be more cautious and less prone to divisive behavior. That could even be the case with the Freedom Caucus, though that is dubious.

        In the case of Trump, I am not sure the prospect of facing a prison sentence would make much difference. He has been this way since he was a teenager and has never faced any consequences.

  5. We are heading towards dystopia. In my head we keep coming around to the original Rollerball movie (discussed that before) and the other is Frank Herbert’s concept of Great Houses. His were all royalty, where each dominion was an entire planet and all its inhabitants. Each ruler ran his dominion in the way he saw fit, with whatever laws he wanted, as long as they did not run afoul of the other Great Houses.

    With the advent of tera-corps and the radical acceleration in the concentration of wealth, are we not that far from these owners/leaders being royalty in all forms but name only? Are we that far from House Amazon, House Google, House Putin, House Jinping? I do not include House Trump, as he is far too incompetent and insane to manage for an extended period of time. House Koch seems more likely.

    Chris says that monarchies failed because they could not adapt. I think if the people in a dominion are well-fed and entertained, that is enough to avoid insurrection. The growing indifference of millenials toward democracy indicates to me that as long as they have a house, their toys, and Instagram, if they have a dictator running the show, it won’t matter.

    1. Instead of “great houses” in an aristocratic context, we seem to be drifting toward distinct data networks. The Internet is an outgrowth of western liberal democracy, built around open standards and sharing. The Chinese have constructed their own parallel version and they’re working hard to spread its adoption across Africa and Asia. The Russians have built another one, complete with its own FB and instant messaging platforms.

      As artificial intelligence grows more important for decisionmaking, those networks are likely to harden into entire worlds.

      1. Chris, that would be interesting to extrapolate. Does an “entire world” exist strictly in a virtual sense, or are these worlds still defined by some physical area? Could you have two people living on the same city block completely operate in separate worlds?

        We know that happens today when it comes to information processing from media sites, but would both these people still have Amazon Prime accounts? Would a cultist of the puppet tyrant continue to work in the same company as someone from the left?

      2. You can’t read the New York Times in China without installing special software. Same for Facebook or Twitter. Over the past decade they’ve constructed their own customized, closed Internet platform with tightly controlled connections to the wider Internet. It is claimed that they could cut off access to the world wide web entirely if needed.

        The Russians are behind, but catching up. They’ve instituted a typically kludgy collection of blocked websites and crappy alternative social media platforms. They mostly regulate their web by jamming unwelcome sites and connections with spam.

        Egypt, Turkey and The ‘Stans are all experimenting with their own methods for limiting content without having to cut off the Internet altogether. Over time they’re likely to drift toward the orbit of the better assembled Chinese or Russian infrastructure. So there is a geographic element to this division.

      3. EJ

        My infosec friends tell me that the UK has recently put a Great Firewall into place as well, requiring all inbound communications to go through a centrally-controlled filter. So far it’s only been used to block criminal and pro-ISIS material, but it could be used for anything else at all. As with so many of the mechanisms of government, we rely on the goodwill of the security establishment and their willingness to obey unwritten norms.

        Given the choice between an elected government controlling what I get to see, and an unelected billionaire controlling what I get to see, I know which one I’d choose. “Neither” would be the best option, but I’m not sure that’s viable in the modern Facebook/Google/Twitter/Amazon internet.

  6. People are social creatures. We cannot survive long without each other. One of our most enduring myths in America is rugged individualism. We have danced on the dilemma of personal freedom and mutual dependence on each other from the beginnings of this country’s founding. Commerce, government and religion all are artifacts to navigate this dilemma of mutual dependency versus personal interest.

    Some of the reality TV shows of people trying to survive with out other people and technology shows how vulnerable alone we really are. And they were never truly alone. People need each other but when they do not recognize governance, government falls apart. The old Soviet Union fell because it’s military and police would not kill their own people to enforce the ruling elites dictates. Which shows why Trump’s idea of creating a mercenary army is really bad. One of the reason Rome fell was because it’s armies were mercenaries who had no loyalty except to who ever paid them.

    Some way to coordinate people’s interest and mutual aid is going to be needed. So for large groups a form of governance is needed and people have to be willing to accept it. I remember years ago of reading a science fiction book of a world where AI computer ran everything for people. But there was a colonization of other planets by those who chafe under that. They were a small minority of the people. This provided a safety valve for discontent. Something like this might be where we are heading. Automation of governance maybe give us better more satisfying government. Preserve freedoms better . But I would still want us humans able to override decisions .

  7. It has taken a while, but it is pretty obvious to any sane individual that the song was right. War is good for absolutely nothing. I came to this conclusion playing the board game War in the day room inside the DMZ in Korea. While the game went on, we watched Vietnam fall in TV. It was a surreal day to put it mildly.

    Unfortunately, sane individuals seem to be in short supply of late. We are stuck in the longest was in our history without a clue about how to get out. I am afraid that it will take a huge mistake of the atomic variety for the not so bright folks that push the buttons to get the memo.

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