How do you reconcile libertarianism with support of the police?

I’ll admit — my original question was not phrased so diplomatically. It went more along the lines of, OMG what is wrong with you? Do you have any idea how fascist you sound on Twitter?? Nick Szabo was a good sport about it, so here is a summary of his response.

Note: This is the third (and probably last) in a series of questions.

Libertarians believe in the right to life and property. Securing physical things requires the use of physical force. Self-defense and private arms are crucial, but realistically there’s only so much one person can do against a mob, much less an invading army. And not everyone can afford to have private security detail.

There are economies of scale when it comes to physical security. The state does not (and should not!) have a monopoly on violence. But police forces, at several different levels of government, are also crucial. Without a state defense force, you end up with a bunch of roving bandits fighting over the same territory, like the Mexican drug cartels or Somali warlords.

Bitcoin secures digital financial rights with cryptography; a police force secures the rights to physical life and property with violence. Security should be asymmetric – the cost of breaking the law is higher than the cost of enforcing the law, and the cost of attacking ones’ rights higher than the cost of defending them. In cryptography, we make the cipher as strong as possible. We don’t dumb it down with smaller key sizes to give the attacker a “fair fight.” Thinking that people defending their life and property, or police enforcing the law, should “fight fair” is both juvenile and dangerous.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” –George Orwell


Elaine:

Obviously if cops only ever busied themselves with defending life and property, no one would be protesting right now. Maybe the media selectively amplifies certain instances of police brutality, and maybe the wrongful acts of violence are actually few and far between, buuut… What ever happened to consent of the governed?

There’s an Ian Morris book that asks, War! What is it Good For? War is Good, because when a stronger state dominates a weaker state, it suppresses the internal violence that would have occurred between multiple weak states. The government is motivated to do this because the suppression of violence leads to greater economic output and tax revenue. The archetypal example is British colonialism in India, where the British unified multiple warring territories and brought forth democracy and railroads. Or the indigenous tribes in North America — instead of hunting and gathering and battling for turf, the Native Americans now live indulgent lives on reservations while running casinos. Or the Iraqis… oh wait.

So that’s what the cops are doing in Minneapolis and Missouri. They’re waging savage wars of peace. On the other hand, maybe there are populations that would rather not have the forced suppression of violence, and instead keep their own rules and culture and right to self-determination at the expense of gains in life expectancy. But nobody ever asks.

Is social upheaval good for Bitcoin?

Is social upheaval good for bitcoin? I asked Nick Szabo.

Note: This is the second in a series of questions. See Also: Could Cypherpunks have done cool stuff without in-person interactions?

A collapse in societal trust will generally increase demand for trust-minimized assets like gold and Bitcoin. People may come to realize that the trusted third parties they were relying on are not as reliable as expected.

For example, people are learning the hard way that police have no legal duty to protect you. Banks, exchanges, and custodial wallets are also security holes. You and your account are just bits to these operators, who will freeze or seize your assets when political winds shift strongly enough against you.

Bitcoin has what I call “deep safety”, in that it’s secure against legal and political threats. As opposed to an asset like Treasury bonds, which avoids volatility risk while being vulnerable to everything else. A situation that creates legal and political instability might be good for Bitcoin, but will be bad for the world in general.

Personally, I would rather not have societal collapse, even if it is good for Bitcoin. Only a sociopath would be in favor of massive death and destruction for the sole purpose of making a number go up.

Could Cypherpunks have done cool stuff without in-person interactions?

Tech conferences are on hiatus, and virtual ones just aren’t the same. Could cypherpunks have done cool stuff without in-person interactions? I asked Nick Szabo. His response is summarized below.

Note: This is the first in a series of questions. Others will be posted pending correspondent approval.

Cypherpunks was a creature of internet mailing lists, a virtual place to exchange ideas. The main purpose of hosting in-person events is to build trust and suss out the sock puppets. Interpersonal trust is important for a subversive discussion group.

It’s possible to do this without local meetups. List membership was generally by invitation — people invited those they had met through other Usenet groups.

That created a self-selection process. In the early 90s, few people had internet access, and fewer still could get on Usenet. AOL served as a honeypot for normies, a shiny diversion where people could feel like they were using cutting-edge technology without getting in the way of hardcore nerds who were actually trying to build things. Kind of like Ethereum.

Cypherpunks were motivated by cool technology rather than money. We were coders, not traders. Today, you have investors assembling mailing lists full of big important people for the sake of discussing Big Ideas, but they end up trying to impress each other or schmooze. You end up with Davos, but on the internet.

Highly motivated individuals don’t need a shared physical space to get stuff done. Most of the cool stuff was done remotely. Lance Cottrell was in San Diego when he wrote the Mixmaster anonymous remailer. Julian Assange first became widely known by his posts from Australia. Adam Back occasionally visited California, but mostly developed hashcash in England. Nick Szabo’s bit gold was inspired and informed far more by mailing list conversations and university library research than by face-to-face meetings.

It also helped that the topics of discussion were mostly abstract and mathematical, reducing the need for empathy and nuance than if you were to discuss, say, blockchain governance.

«Record Scratch»

When you discuss topics of emotionless objectivity, there is no need for empathy and nuance. It’s just logic and math, right?

I asked Nick about the lack of diversity on the Cypherpunks mailing list (I’m woke like that), at which point he hung up on me. But the last statement didn’t seem quite right. People argue about seemingly objective topics all the time, and quite emotionally so — just look at all the Bitcoin forks!

I’m reminded of an interview with Max Levchin, co-founder of Paypal. (The transcript seems to have vanished down the memoryhole.) Levchin attributes Paypal’s early success to the team’s lack of diversity. You don’t waste time arguing about frivolous stuff if everyone thinks just like you do. You also don’t worry so much about empathy and nuance if everyone comes from the same background. Those who complain about a “toxic culture” are probably just too diverse to fit in.

Facebook Discovers That The World is Flat

Good news! Employees of Facebook will soon be able to work from home FOREVER!

Not only will Facebook save money on office space and in-house perks; they can reduce salaries to account for lower cost of living as employees flee to the exurbs.

Facebook’s campus is like Disneyland. It has catered meals, a climbing wall, an arcade, and an ice cream shop full of cupcakes and candy. And the bathrooms have bidets! It’s like IBM’s country clubs, but for millennials.

In the early aughts, tech companies like IBM and Cisco realized they could save hundreds of millions a year by outsourcing their jobs to India. A lot of people complained about this, but three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman took the initiative and actually visited an IT offshoring firm in Bangalore.

There, he discovered that the Indian IT workers were using computers and software made by Compaq and Microsoft, drinking beverages made by Coca-Cola, and the firm itself was 90% owned by American investors. Contrary to the popular opinion that offshoring was leaving Americans jobless and poor, it was in fact making Americans fabulously rich. Different groups of Americans, but all white people look same.

There was a time when IBM employees were treated like family. Would you dump Grandma on the street once her maintenance costs exceed her productive value? No! That’s why IBM had a no-layoff policy, along with corporate country clubs and family-friendly Christmas parties. Then the internet came along and made offshoring feasible, the end of the Cold War made globalization politically correct, and post-Bretton Woods financialization made foreign investment attractive. IBM laid off workers, sold the country clubs, and, well, it’s hard to have a Christmas party when the majority of your workforce is in India.

Facebook is an H-1B dependent company, meaning over 15% of its employees are on temporary visas. The obvious thing is for Facebook to send all the H-1B workers back home and have them work from overseas. But I’m reminded of this passage from Antonio Garcia Martinez’s Chaos Monkeys:

Large but unexciting tech outfits like Oracle, Intel, Qualcomm, and IBM that have trouble recruiting the best American talent hire foreign engineers by the boatload. Consultancy firms that bill inflated project costs by the man-hour, such as Accenture and Deloitte, shanghai their foreign laborers, who can’t quit without being eventually deported. By paying them relatively slim H-1B-stipulated salaries while eating the fat consultancy fees, such companies get rich off the artificial employment monopoly created by the visa barrier. It’s a shit deal for the immigrant visa holders, but they put up with the five or so years of stultifying, exploitive labor as an admissions ticket to the tech First World. After that, they’re free. Everyone abandons his or her place at the oar inside the Intel war galley immediately, but there’s always someone waiting to take over.

Strictly speaking, H-1B visas are nonimmigrant and temporary, and so this hazing ritual of immigrant initiation is unlawful. Yet everyone’s on the take, including the government, which charges thousands in filing fees. The entire system is so riven with institutionalized lies, political intrigue, and illegal but overlooked manipulation, it’s a wonder the American tech industry exists at all.

Zuckerberg is a smart guy. He’s also the co-founder of FWD.us, a lobbying group that wants MOAR visas for temporary workers. If employees in Bangalore were just as effective as employees in Menlo Park, Zuck would have enabled remote work ages ago. Immigration is part of the compensation package.

It’s the high-maintenance regular employees that will be sent home. You know, the ones that require a living wage and gender diversity, and stage protests if an exec appears to support Trump. The average tenure of a Facebook employee is only 2 years, so it’s a convenient way to shed some cruft from the workforce.

I guess Facebook is going the way of IBM, but with better marketing.

Education

As a lifelong student, I have a keen interest in post-pandemic education. Based on my Twitter feed, homeschooling is the future (and the past). Here’s Bryan Caplan with a rundown of how to do it and why.

Instead of subjecting his offspring to the one-size-fits-all curriculum known as Common Core, Caplan sends them to play group with Robin Hanson, Alex Tabarrok, Tyler Cowen, Garett Jones, and Nathaniel Bechhofer. Here’s Tyler Cowen describing his efforts to help homeschool Caplan’s children, presumably because Cowen has no children of his own.

Most parents probably don’t have a team of world-renowned economists at the ready. Their most talented coworkers are low-level wage serfs slinging code all day. Come to think of it, what does an economist do? I get that they hold high-ranking positions at government agencies and think tanks, but what is it that they do all day?

Ancient Romans believed that chickens had oracular powers, because roosters crow before daybreak to portend the sunrise. Senators and generals consulted with chickens in an elaborate ritual where a sacred hen was placed in a circle sectioned to represent the alphabet, with grain spread around the circle. The hen’s scratching and pecking patterns were then recorded and interpreted by priests to inform public policy decisions.

The chicken’s magic doesn’t come from its ability to randomly scratch and peck; it comes from people’s ability to convince themselves that the bird knows exactly what it’s doing. Maybe the chicken has a PhD, or maybe it holds a faculty position at Harvard, or maybe it’s a Nobel Laureate. That’s why we should trust the chicken, we reason.

Over time, people realized that chickens were far too delicious to use for policy consultation, and thus the profession of Economist was born.

I don’t mean to pick on economists here. I’m sure a chicken could similarly do the job of a journalist, management consultant, or any of the “experts” trotted out by political entities. Yes, including climate scientists and epidemiologists. Here’s an NBER working paper that examines just how wrong the COVID-19 epidemiology models were (very!), and the policy implications of such wrongness. The conclusion is that we should leave the job to economists next time — presumably the health economists from Harvard and MIT who authored the paper. Or maybe just use a chicken.

Bryan Caplan’s scratchings and peckings are likely correct in this case. The future of education will look a lot like the past, where children of big muckety-mucks hang out with other muckety-mucks and continue each generation in their designated caste. We hide the nepotism of higher education under layers of elaborate rituals to convince the plebes it’s a meritocracy.

In the pre-pandemic era, well-to-do families in China would send their children to study at American universities if they couldn’t test into a top Chinese university. China’s college admission is based entirely on the National College Entrance Exam; no preferential admits for big donors or recruited athletes. It’s really embarrassing if you’re Xi Jinping and your daughter ends up somewhere like Shanghai Normal University. That’s the kind of thing that brings great shame to your dynasty.

On the other hand, Harvard would gladly take the unqualified child of a bigwig.

Colleges in the US are suspending standardized tests as an admission requirement and imposing quotas on Asian admits, frustrating Tiger Moms everywhere. Smart, competitive kids will realize the futility of fighting each other for the privilege of paying a six-figure sum to attend a school that values wokeness over substance. They’ll put the time they would have spent studying for the SATs towards studying for 高考 (Gaokao), or Единый государственный экзамен, the Russian equivalent. Brains will drain to elite universities in the unwoke parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, where they might actually learn something. Those who don’t care to learn will keep doing what they’re doing, and be revered as sacred gods.