Sunday, May 23, 2010

False analogies

Pray for the welfare of the government, for without the government, people would eat each other alive.
— Pirkei Avos

My rabbi once told me that the worst thing is false analogies.

In the comment thread on the post on Liberia, one of the comments says:
Over Shabbos I was contemplating the two countries, and I came to the following conclusion: when Pirkei Avos said what it did about Government, it was talking about this situation. North Korea, for all its many evils, is at least a (semi) functioning country. It may be starving its citizens, but at least people there live slightly normal lives. Contrast this to Liberia, where without a government, people literally eat each other. It's crazy. They may be much more western in their outlook, but without government? It's horrific.
Well, admitedly, I don’t know what’s worse: to live in North Korea or in Liberia. I would say — North Korea, because in Liberia, you still have a chance to get out of poverty, even though it’s very difficult. And even though there was a good chance you could be killed and eaten during the civil war, if North Korea starts a war, there is a good chance one can get vaporized by a nuclear attack.

Also, as I said to someone else, however many people General Butt Naked killed and ate, Hitler, Stalin or Mao each killed many more.

But even if what the comment says is true, therefore what? It seems that the thesis is: without the government, in Liberia people literally eat each other; therefore, we need the government to provide law and order. (Again, in Liberia there is government, but never mind that.)

Well, if you watch the third video (graphic alert) in the post, you will see right at the beginning that Liberians living in Westpoint, the largest slum of their capital Monrovia, go to bathroom right on the beach in front of their houses since the sanitation system is broken. Actually, one of the Liberian journalists blames the government. In fact, the video begins with the journalists going to see “what the government and UN are doing to rebuild Liberia”. And “the government does nothing about the lack of sanitation. In fact, the Commissioner himself sometimes goes on the beach, squats and [...] together with the people.”

Now, following the logic of the comment, living in North Korea is better than in Liberia — at least you have toilets there (actually, I am not completely sure what they have in Korean villages). Yes, the government may be a necessary evil, but at least it’s necessary to provide us with the toilets. I mean, no way would the market be able to provide us with the sanitation system if not for the government.


Also, for instance, when the people of medieval Iceland decided to be independent from Norwegian king and formed a nearly-anarchic society (mind you, not completely anarchic), everybody just spontaneously started going to the bathroom to Greenland Sea or Atlantic Ocean, since the king wasn’t there to provide them with chamberpots (or law and order), right? (That is, when they weren’t busy eating each other.)

As I said, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with either anarchy or government. It has to do with the culture. For instance, when the hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, a lot of local residents were sitting on the roofs screaming, while one Russian journalist living in the area somehow managed to blog about what was going on around him, and when the water hit the attic of his house, he built a boat and just left (literally).

(There was another story of a couple with kids running out of gas in some forest in Oregon after taking a wrong turn. After about a week of waiting for the help to come, the father decided to go look for it by himself. He got lost and froze to death. All the time being a few miles away from civilization. The family was rescued. When my mother heard the story, she didn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe people could have so few survival skills. I mean, everybody knows, in such a situation, you just go up the hill to see better what’s around you.)


The Real Shliach said...

Saying that the government in Liberia is in any way comparable to the government in DPRK is false. There is no proper government in Liberia. There is a proper government in DPRK.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

What is your definition of a proper government?

The Real Shliach said...

The one laid out in the US Constitution has, on the whole, done pretty well. Alternatively, the Torah's version.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Those are examples, not a definition. North Korea doesn’t have a government too in that case. Nor do most countries.

The Real Shliach said...

I never said that the DPRK has a proper government. I said that their government is far superior to that of Liberia's, and their people are better off because of it.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

You just said Liberia has no proper government. What do you mean by proper government? If the government of US Constitution, then most countries don’t have one.

The Real Shliach said...

You will have to excuse my use of the word "proper". I meant "functioning". The DPRK has a functioning government. Liberia does not.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Well, I could ask you what a functioning government is, and we would go the full circle.

But I thought while driving to work of a way to refute your argument without using the toilet analogy.

You are saying: it’s more dangerous in Liberia, because there is a good chance you’ll be killed and eaten, while in N. Korea, while the life sucks, at least you’ll still be alive. So, some, however bad, government is better than none.

Well, this argument was raised in the 17th century between John Lock and Thomas Hobbs. The latter was saying what you were saying and that one therefore should never rebel against a government, while Lock was arguing with him and saying that indeed under some circumstances one should rebel under government — of course, not whenever something doesn’t satisfy one, but if there is a long list of grievances... (and this concept was quoted almost verbatim in the Declaration of Independence).

But the main argument of Lock is that a tyrannic government can be even more dangerous than chaos (I am avoiding the use of “anarchy”, because anarchy and chaos are two different things).

You’re saying that there is a danger of being killed and eaten by General Butt Naked if you live in Liberia. Well, first, you need to be found by him. Second, he needs to be able to kill you. Third, there was something else I was going to write, I forgot what it was, but it was going to be smart.

The point is: a number of probabilistic conditions need to be fulfilled in order for you to be at General Butt Naked’s mercy (if nothing else, he ate only children, and other people at only corpses).

But in N. Korea you’re already at the government’s mercy. Whenever Kim Chen Ir wants to, he can eat you. You have much less chance escaping him than escaping General Butt Naked.

Of course, you could say: but he likely won’t want to. Yes, but that’s because Koreans eat dogs, not people. In Africa there is a different culture. So, if a dictator who likes to eat people comes to power, you’re more screwed than if one of the warlords engaged in the civil war likes to eat people.

Also, the reason that we know that people were eaten is that journalists were allowed to Liberia. In N. Korea, it’s very difficult to sneak in as a journalist, and even then you only see the facade. You don’t really know that the leaders of N. Korean party are not eating people (or doing other things to them).

As I said, Stalin killed 50 million people. Sometimes because Ivan didn’t like that his neighbor Vasiliy was snoring too loud and wrote an anonymous letter to KGB, resulting in Vasya being arrested and shot. Things like this were happening all over the place. People of older generation are still afraid to sneeze without looking around.

And I am not talking about murders only. In the clip it said that 70% of Liberian women were raped. Well, when the Soviet forces entered East Prussia, nearly 100% of women were raped from East Prussia to Berlin — sometimes repeatedly. And this is just during the war. Beria, Stalin’s buddy, would drive around the city (Moscow) in his black car, then point to a school girl he liked, and she would be picked up...

So, would you rather be a German woman in E. Prussia or a Liberian woman in Liberia?

Speaking of Liberian women, do you know how the civil was got stopped? A bunch of women (including the current president) came together and said: enough with this [...]. And stopped the war. A bunch of ladies. Can you imagine something like this happening in the case of any totalitarian regimes?

The Real Shliach said...

Perhaps you have a point. I would not like to live in either Liberia or the DPRK.

Dovid said...

I would not either, but I disagree that this is a "false analogy". I think the statement from pirkei avos was properly applied.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

The statement from Pirkei Avos is true under certain circumstances. Without the government, people indeed can eat each other alive — and there will be no government to stop them. In so much as this, it is true.

But it is equally true that the government itself can eat people alive, and even more people than people themselves would without the government.

As it is equally true to say that people can hire guards for themselves, which will protect them from each other. And in the conditions of capitalist economy (which did not exist in the times of Mishna, btw — didn’t exist until very recently at all, to the extend that had Adam Smith been born 200 years before his time, he would not be an economist, since as an economist he would have nothing to write about), such private protection agencies will protect people not only not worse but even better than the government, and such an arrangement will not lead to chaos, but, on the other hand, will eliminate all the problems associated with the government.

I agree, of course, that without ANY protection at all, provided by any kind of company (either monopolizing the market of protection, like the government does, or not), people would eat each other alive.

I.e. without police, or Shomrim, or Shmira, friendly neighbors of CH would assault the Jews all the time, but now they only assault them half the time. But if you got rid of police, and private organizations would be the only ones to take care of stuff, they would actually provide quality service (since people would pay them). So, the government not only does a bad job, but prevents others from doing a good job.

It is like to say: “Thank Hashem for domesticated animals such as a horse, donkey or ox. For without the animals, people wouldn’t produce enough food to feed everyone, and due to a population explosion, people would starve and many would die.”

Well, if you make this statement 2000 years ago, it’s certainly true. Without the animals, famine would happen (I am not 100% sure that’s true, but let’s imagine it was). But nowadays, you don’t need animals for farming. You have tractors. In fact, if we relied on animals for farming, we would for sure starve, because the amount of food produced by them would not be enough for the current population (again, not sure if true, but let’s imagine it was).

A Suede Ḥossid said...

One can find a lot of similar statements from our tradition that one can see as contradicting not only today’s knowledge (sometimes blatant contradiction of known facts from science or math) but even common sense. How to reconcile our knowledge today and the tradition is a good question, but I don’t think rejecting either is a good answer.

The Real Shliach said...

Just because CA says something is contradictory doesn't mean it's contradictory.

Dovid said...

Just because ASH says something is contradictory doesn't mean it's contradictory either.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

I don’t “say” it in a way of paskening. I have been posting logical arguments against the effectiveness of the government for a while. If you have a problem with particular arguments of mine or libertarians, you can respond to them.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Oh, you mean re: last comment.

Well, the same is true. If a rishon says that Pythagorean theorem applies only to squares but not rectangles (a real case), I am saying that he is wrong basing on mathematics. Of course, the piskei din that he made following this fallacious assumption of his are still valid Halacha.

So, one could still say that it is a bad idea (or not as recommended) to teach women Torah, but the reasoning that Chazal brought for it is unfounded today (at least in many cases).

Dovid said...

CA/ASH- When I read that saying from pirkei avos, I don't think of it as refuting libertarianism, I think its speaking against anarchy.
Communism is better than anarchy

Its not saying communism would be better than a minimal government philosophy. But government is better than no government.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Anarchy is a form of libertarianism.

I understand that you disagree with it, but many libertarians would disagree with you. I don’t know if I buy their argument 100%, but I do think that TRS’s analogy was wrong. It’s not necessarily worse to live under anarchy, even if it results in a worse condition than a limit government.

I.e., you say: anarchy < totalitarian g’nt < limited g’t.
Anarcho-libertarians say: t.g. < l.g. < anarchy.
I say, even if they are wrong, still: t.g. < anarchy < l.g.

The Real Shliach said...

Shall we agree to disagree?

Dovid said...

Yeah I'll agree to disagree. anarchy < t.g.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

What if I disagree? Would this mean that I don’t agree that we disagree, or, in other words, insist that we agree, while you say that we disagree?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Btw, I don’t know what you guys think about when you say “anarchy”. Anarchy does NOT mean lawlessness and each man for himself. It just means that law (and protection) are provided by private organizations, not by one semi-public organization.

Dovid said...

Honestly thats BS. Not everything can be privatized. Privatize the police and army, and you get some mob-like entity that protects only those that pay for protection or some tribal gangs that protect you and attack people protected by the other tribes. Larry Elder'esque naivete.

Dovid said...

Privatize schools, privatize hospitals, privatize mail, fine and good.

Law, army, police, etc must be public.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Just restating the thesis does not equal argumentation. :)

You have all the same (in quality, not in quantity) dangers with the government as with anarchy. USSR had a constitution almost identical to that of US. Russian and French revolutions led to bloodshed, while American one did not. It’s all about mentality. If Americans don’t allow its government to become tyrannical and slaughter people, they will not support mob-like private protection agencies.

It is correct that private agencies will protect only their customers. But there will be rival agencies that will provide service of varying cost to different people.

This argument is no different from “give food production in the hands of private organizations, and they will sell food only to those who have money and will leave the poor die from hunger. Therefore, the government must own food production [Russian socialist version] or at least control food prices [semi-socialist version]”. Obviously that’s ridiculous and doesn’t happen.

Anyway, read this article for more background: (it explains the model much better than I would here).

To see answers to some common arguments against anarchy (some of which may immediately come to your mind), see this: and this:

The Real Shliach said...

What do you think food stamps are for? And who do you think invented food stamps?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Food stamps are charity. They are just money given to people that they can only use for food. So, the argument here is two-fold:

1) private charity (even in food) would be more effective that government-sponsored charity
2) under anarchy, you would also have charity: private charity organizations providing charity for protections, or, perhaps, protection agencies themselves protecting those without income for free: e.g., for publicity (which is a big economic incentive), or in exchange to some services that these people can provide to the protection agencies. In fact, that would be a good incentive for them to start working (and in general, a good incentive for people to look for a job harder, if they know there is a chance they can remain unprotected).

Also, I don’t know if libertarians would agree, but people could extend their own protection to those in need. Just like I can protect someone myself, I can call my guard to do it in a case of emergency (just like I can ask my AAA to fix my friend’s car). My premium may be a little higher next month, but most people in a charitable society wouldn’t mind this happening for protecting someone in need.

The Real Shliach said...

Nu, what what the Rebbe say?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

In fact, when you sign up for protection, you can elect to pay a little extra for charity (there could be a Gold Member membership, in which you pay $10 extra every month, which goes toward the cost of protecting someone else, and for which you get some extra benefit or publicity yourself).

This is what is happening now. The government forces us to pay taxes to protect poor people who don’t pay taxes from criminals. Well, most people are happy to pay taxes for this particular service, right? Well, the same people would be equally happy to pay the above-mentioned “a little extra” for charity protection of the poor.

My economic model may not be 100% correct of feasible, because I am not an economist or a “professional” libertarian, but I think the answer is somewhere in the ballpark of what I am saying.

My point is: remember what the eccentric mathematician in Jurassic Park said? Nature finds the way. Well, market find the way too.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

What would the Rebbe say?

a) Must you put a stumbling block in front of me?
b) I have no idea. The Rebbe had no “shitta”.
c) I am a pseudo-chossid, remember? I have to look at what the Rebbe said as Torah (even if it has nothing to do with Torah), but I can’t discount something that makes logical sense to me either (of course, not in the areas of Halacha).

But, if you think about it, the Rebbe’s family suffered from Communists and Nazis — a totalitarian government that took over the country by force and a democratically elected government. Member of his close and extended family were killed, imprisoned, beaten, deprived of livelihood, pressured not to practice their religion, exiled or forced to leave the country.

Of course, you could say that the Rebbe was never hurt by US government, bH, but why is that? Is it just that this government happened to be nicer? (Remember, Nazis were elected democratically.) Or is it the mentality of people living in this land? Well, if it’s the latter, then the same mentality would also exist under anarchy.

Also, imagine if private agencies protected Israel today. Would so many people be killed by Arabs? Would the settlers be removed from their own homes? Would...?.. etc., etc. I think not.

The Real Shliach said...

You didn't answer the question, you merely obfuscated to your advantage.

Mor said...

Revolutions should be left out of this. Macaulay has already explained why some countries were able to establish stable governments right away and others were not.
I don't know about any historical examples of privatized police services.
It is a well-known fact that mercenaries are terrible soldiers. You need to actually care about what you are fighting for in order to risk your life. Money is not the answer to everything.

Dovid said...

What would the Rebbe say about food stamps? The Rebbe invented food stamps:

Dovid said...

The advantage of private charity organizations is that they won't go mevazvezing otzrois willy nilly.

The advantage of government charity programs is that they will mevazvez otzrois willy nilly.

Dovid said...

You know, I think it boils down to this:

You believe that the nature of the individual is good and therefore, it is best to leave him completely to his own devices.

I believe that the nature of the individual is not good and therefore, it is best not to leave him completely to his own devices.

And I think my belief is more in accordance with chassidus.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Just because Macaulay “already” explained something doesn’t mean I buy his explanation. He merely provided a correlation between some countries’ histories of oppression and the bloodiness of their revolution.

But even if so, so what? Who cares what the reason for greater humanity of Anglo-Saxon society is?

How is it well known that mercenaries are terrible soldiers? Swiss mercenaries were some of the most sought-out soldiers in Europe. Cossacks were employed in Eastern Europe as prized cavalry forces. Byzantine Emperor beat the dudu out of Turks with his Varangian guard. The reasons for soldiers fighting well are complicated. Also, presumably, the soldiers fighting for private defense companies will be (for the most part) fighting in defense of their country, since under libertarian regime, the role of armies would be protection against invasion, not invasions themselves.

On the other hand, statistically, government generals were the worst generals. Stalin killed 20 million soldiers by ordering things like “Kiev re-taken by the anniversary of Revolution”. Hitler refused for Paulus to withdraw from Stalingrad and lost one third of his army.

Americans also did some pretty crazy things in Europe. Not to mention General Lee sending Patton and his brigade towards the cannons and losing the war for the South.

These people risked their political career only. As long as it was safe, they were free to implement their idiotic plans. If they had been hired privately, as soon as they did something stupid, it would be easy to change to a different defense agency. Money is not everything, but money is the best democracy there is — it’s the surest way to show that something is effective and that people support it (because if they don’t, the stop paying for it).

There are plenty of historical examples of privatized police. Starting from your local mall and ending with medieval guards for merchants. (Btw, look up merchant law.) Also, there aren’t so many examples of anarchic societies.

Dovid: nothing of the like. Success of libertarianism is not founded on the goodness of a common man. Anarchic society will be as humane as the government-run society. In America it will be pretty humane. In Nazi Germany, it will kill minorities. Except the government will do it better (that’s one thing that government is better at — oppressing people).

A Suede Ḥossid said...

(Well, not in defense of their country per se, but their communities, their style of life, etc.)

The Real Shliach said...

Patton? You mean this guy?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Yes, he was “quite a character” and all that, but he lost a lot of soldiers during the Italian campaign because of stupidity (I think that movie shows it too — he was almost sacked even by US military; plus, he yelled at soldiers who had battle fever).

During the Battle of the Bulge, he did quite well, but the whole battle is quite interesting: Americans and British messed up, so Roosevelt asked Stalin for assistance. Stalin ordered Chuikov to put pressure on Germans, which he had to do at the expense of stretching out Soviet forces and losing a lot of people as a result — but, because of that pressure, Nazis had to shift some forces to the east and as a result, Americans were able to break through.

Now, this whole story is one major story of idiocy, which would never happen under private armies.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

See, all this tough talk and worshiping Romans and all that is very cute, but it’s a difference between some American today growing up with a grandfather and not growing up with a grandfather, because some tough-talking idiot decided to “push for it” in a heroic manner.

The Real Shliach said...

Because the private sector always makes the right moves, right?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

a) Give me an examples of wrong moves it has made (I am not saying it never does; I am just curious).

b) The point is not that it doesn’t but that it does it much rarely than the government.

c) The additional point is that market weeds out those people that make bad moves (by bankrupting them) and supports those that make good moves (by giving them money). It is a form of democracy — actually closer to the original Athenian democracy, where every single person voted. On the market, every single person votes with his money.

The Real Shliach said...

Google the word "bankruptcy".