Some Libertarianish Monday Links-Authority

So, is there a current increase in violent crime in NYC right now, under De Blasio?

This blog tends to be sympathetic to the idea that cops aren’t social workers, nor should they be.  Authority is a tricky thing to wield, as it usually distances people from those they serve.  Ideally, this requires not just legal authority, but smart policy and moral decency as well. You’ve got to get the incentives right and it’s good to have good people.

Cops, especially, have to deal with among the worst elements in our society day-in and day-out, as well as the ever-present threat of violence and the politics of their cities, precincts and fellow officers.  A few cops in NYC’s large force are no doubt rotten apples, some meat-heads notoriously go into the policing business, some cops are assholes, some are aiming for retirement, some are great cops, some are very good cops, many have acted in truly heroic fashion at some point in their careers.

I think the activist high-water-mark may have been reached.

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Speaking of authority, Virginia Postrel took a look at that Reason magazine subpoena (commenters at Reason being the commenters at Reason).

‘Los Angeles legal blogger Ken White has obtained a grand jury subpoena issued to Reason.com, the online home of the libertarian magazine I edited throughout the 1990s. The subpoena seeks information about commenters who posted in response to an article by the site’s editor Nick Gillespie about the letter that Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht wrote to Judge Katherine B. Forrest before she sentenced him to life in prison without parole.’

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And Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution ‘Daniel A. Bell on the China model and political meritocracy

The Chinese government may be rather authoritarian, bureaucratic and post-ish Communist, and the quite old Chinese culture much more conformist than American culture, but such a system holds attractions for certain people.

Cowen responds to some points made about the book:

‘1. The United States probably should have less democracy along some margins, if only fewer referenda in California and no state and local elections of judges, dog catchers, and the like.  If a writer cites “democracy” as obviously and always good for all choices, that writer isn’t thinking clearly.

2. More generally, the Western nations are relying on democracy less, as evidenced by the growing roles for central banks and also the European Union.  That may or may not be desirable, but it’s worth considering our own trends before putting the high hat on.

2. The key to long-term living standards is stability of growth, just look at Denmark.  There was never a heralded “Danish economic miracle,” but the country still has finished close to the top in terms of human welfare.  Whether ostensibly meritocratic non-democratic systems can deliver such outcomes remains very much up for grabs, and Bell’s book hasn’t convinced me any that they can.

3. Arguably a country’s best chance of achieving meritocracy is to have many smart individuals who are culturally central.  No system of government is going to overcome the lack of that.

4. Most humans in history seem to have favored meritocratic rule over democracy, and before the 19th century democracy was rare, even in the limited form of male-dominated or property owner-dominated republics.  It is possible that the current advantage of democracy is rooted in technology, or some other time-specific factor, which ultimately may prove temporary.  That said, I still observe plenty of democracies producing relatively well-run countries, so I don’t see significant evidence that a turning point against democracy has been reached.

5. To consider comparisons which hold a greater number of factors constant, I haven’t seen many (any?) serious people argue that Taiwan or South Korea would have done better to resist their processes of democratization.’

On a related note: In this blog’s experience, many discontents on the authoritarian (and yes totalitarian) Left can defer more ideological dreams of utopian, revolutionary equality into ‘democracy’ as a kind of catch-all.  This requires authority.  We all like the idea of some meritocracy.

A quote by Henry Kissinger I keep putting up:

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

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