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nice! i like this already unsigned comment by (talk) 01:18, 24 November 2010.

On the origin and rise of the state

A place to store thoughts on the origin of the state.

Jared Diamond speaks about the how an elite can maintain popular support while maintaining a more comfortable lifestyle than commoners (Guns, Germs and Steel, p.276-278):

  • Disarm the populace, and arm the elite.
  • Make the masses happy by redistributing much of the tribute received, in popular ways.
  • Use the monopoly of force to promote happiness, by maintaining public order and curbing violence. (Noting that 'more primitive' society groups are in fact rather violent.)
  • Construct a justifying ideology or religion. (As an additional benefit, shared ideology or religion helps solve the problem of how unrelated individuals are to live together without killing each other - by providing them with a bond not based on kinship. It gives also people a motive, other than genetic self-interest, for sacrificing their lives on behalf of others. At the cost of a few society members who die in battle as soldiers, the whole society becomes much more effective at conquering other societies or resisting attacks.)

He lists the reasons for states' triumphs over simpler entities when the collided (p.281-286):

  • states usually enjoyed an advantage of weaponry and other technology
  • a large numerical advantage in population
  • a centralized decision maker has the advantage of concentrating troops and resources
  • the official religions and patriotic fervor of many states make their troops willing to fight suicidally

Diamond also theorizes about the origin of the state (p.283). He notes that the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau speculated that states are formed by a social contract, a rational decision reached when people calculated their self-interest, came to the agreement that they would be better off in a state than in simpler societies and voluntarily did away with them. But observation and historical records have failed to uncover a single case of a state's being formed in that ethereal atmosphere of dispassionate farsightedness. Smaller units do not voluntarily abandon their sovereignty and merge into larger units. They do so only by conquest, or under external duress.

Diamond claims that food production and 'societal complexity' stimulate each other. Further, he claims complex centralized societies are uniquely capable of organizing public works, long-distance trade and activities of different groups of economic specialists.

So, what are his ultimate reasons for the emergence of states (p.286-287):

  • the problem of conflict between unrelated strangers, which increases with the size of groups
  • growing impossibility of communal decision-making
  • "Large societies can function economically only if they have a redistributive economy in addition to a reciprocal economy. Goods in excess of an individual's needs must be transferred from the individual to a centralized authority, which then redistributes the goods to individuals with benefits."
  • densely populated regions require large and complexly organized societies

On the other side, the political theorist Albert Jay Nock and the economist Murray Rothbard suggested a typical pattern in history nearly the opposite of Diamond's. They hypothesized that states arise when some nomadic people, who have been repeatedly raiding a nearby society of relatively peaceful farmers over an extended period, come to realize that it is more profitable to settle right in the farming community as rulers, enabling them to continually raid the productive population in the form of taxes. (See Nock, 1935, and Rothbard, 1978.)[1]

More on this later. Pestergaines 17:51, 21 May 2012 (MSD)

As another point of view, this gentleman argues that wars made states, and states made peace in the end. (Hat tip to Robert Higgs.) Pestergaines (talk) 03:38, 30 April 2014 (EDT)


  1. Gene Callahan. "The Diamond Fallacy", Mises Daily. Referenced 2012-05-21.

Distinction between public and private

How do we distinguish between public and private sovereigns? E.g. if all the governments, national, state and local, were abolished, wouldn't you as private landowner be at that point a government over all who choose to enter your property? Maybe some ethical rules of proportionality would apply, e.g. you couldn't shoot someone for mere theft, and such behavior might result in ostracism or counterattack if the prevailing norms condemned such behavior. But you could expel someone from your land for whatever reasons you deemed appropriate. Those reasons could include non-payment of rent. Isn't a tax basically rent imposed by a sovereign? A sovereign is like a super-landlord, is he not? Nathan Larson (talk) 05:36, 17 July 2012 (MSD)

Problems with political action done via the state

For later, five reasons why people behave so badly in the political realm:

1. Other People’s Problems

Milton Friedman famously described the four ways to spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself, your own money on someone else, someone else’s money on yourself, or someone else’s money on someone else. It’s clear that you’ll be most judicious in the first scenario, and less so in each that follows.

All political issues are a case of the fourth scenario, even when money is not directly involved. You’re voting on the use of resources that aren’t yours — the pool of taxpayer dollars that fund government bureaucracy — to solve someone else’s problem.

Ballot initiatives tell us that some people, somewhere, are having some kind of problem — and that we can vote to make it better. It’ll cost you nothing (at least nothing you can see at the moment), so why not?

Not only voters, but also the regulators, enforcers, and drafters of such propositions are so far removed from the issue at hand and have no personal stake in the outcome that it is impossible for them to make decisions or draft policies without unintended consequences.

2. Information Issues

Proposition F is ridiculously complex. To cast a fully informed vote on the Prop F, one would need to begin by reading all 21 pages of legal text. What’s more, the costs of obtaining the information far exceed the probability that your informed vote will be decisive. The result is what economists call “rational ignorance.”

Customers, employees, managers, and investors of Airbnb are best suited to optimize the service. Even the company’s competitors are in an excellent position to curb it or force it to improve if they channel their efforts where the information matters, namely in the markets where they stand to lose or gain.

3. Signaling for Survival

Most political action is signaling. It’s not so much that people want to buy American or recycle everything — we know this because when their own money is on the line in the real world of trade-offs, they mostly don’t. But people want to be seen as the kind of person who buys American or supports recycling. There is tremendous pressure in the political sphere to prove to everyone that you support all the right things — especially things that come at a direct personal cost to you. This proves you care about that abstraction called “society.”

Once control by force is an option, a great deal of otherwise productive energy and otherwise creative people are drawn into the crooked craft of politics.

The best thing a rich person can do in the political sphere is vote for higher taxes on the rich. The best thing an Airbnb investor can do is claim to support regulations that restrict Airbnb. You’ll get lots of cheap signal points, even if what you support would actually be bad for everyone.

4. Binary Choices

Voting is a yes or no affair. The political sphere is incapable of genuine pluralism. Imagine if markets worked the same way. What if your local grocery store sent out a survey asking you to vote on which kind of wine you wanted them to stock, or how much, or at what price (with any losses to be made up by adjusting other prices)?

Can Airbnb be improved? Of course. Can a bunch of people with no control over the outcome and little skin in the game be given an up or down vote on a single policy proposal and make it better? Don’t be silly.

The adaptability, nuance, and diversity of options, offerings, and solutions in a market are the greatest strength and the very stuff on which the startup scene was built. Cramming broad society-wide solutions into binary choices is absurd.

5. The Problem of Power

The infamous Stanford prison experiment didn’t go horribly wrong because the wrong batch of subjects was chosen: it was a case of dangerous institutions and incentives. When rules are enforced by raw power, the person who wields that power has more control than any human being can responsibly handle.

Contrary to Thomas Hobbes, it is not the “state of nature” that is a war of all against all; it is Leviathan that rewards force over cooperation and cultivates the worst traits. Once control by force is an option, a great deal of otherwise productive energy and otherwise creative people are drawn into the crooked craft of politics.

F.A. Hayek wrote at length in The Road to Serfdom about why, in the political sphere, the worst get on top. It’s a predictable outcome of a powerful state.

Democracy doesn’t keep this tendency in check so much as it directs the power toward those who are best able to appeal to the desire of rationally ignorant voters to signal the trendy positions on the latest issues. Pestergaines (talk) 15:05, 12 June 2016 (EDT)