"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."


Glenn Reynolds:

Barack Obama:
"Impossible to transcend."

Albert A. Gore, Jr.:
"An incontinent brute."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:
"God damn the Gentleman Farmer."

Friends of GF's Sons:
"Is that really your dad?"

Kickball Girl:
"Keeping 'em alive until 7:45."

Hired Hand:
"I think . . . we forgot the pheasant."

I'm an
Alcoholic Yeti
in the
TTLB Ecosystem

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A Transient Anomaly

It has been said that life is a temporary, localized reversal of entropy. While we grow and live, organizing calcium into bones and iron into blood, we bring greater order to our immediate vicinity by building bridges and houses and suchlike. But meanwhile -- in the Universe at large -- entropy increases, and our bodies and our physical works will eventually be so many quarks floating in a uniform universal sea of dark cold. The fundamental forces of the universe will in the end overcome our temporary, localized reversal of entropy.

Stephen Balch wonders if the fundamental structure of Western Civilization is a temporary, localized anomaly; a bubble of rules and expectations that run counter to the greater forces that have normally driven human history:
For about the last two hundred years (three in a few locales), the fundamental structure of Western civilization has been anomalous in a crucial way. The anomaly consists in this: whereas in the overwhelming majority of societies the dominant route to wealth and status has been through political control, essentially the use of force or threat of force to extract value from others, in the West it has generally been through exchanges in which the parties have choices, and in which value must be returned for value received if the transaction is to consummate. We’re so conditioned to this, to the fact that our great fortunes belong to entrepreneurs, inventors, magnates, entertainers, and athletes, people who make (or do) things that others want, rather than to royalty, nobility, high priests, mandarins, court favorites and military leaders, people who take in taxes and booty things that others would prefer to keep, that we — very much including historians, journalists, and social commentators of almost every stripe — give little or no thought to it, considering it pretty much the natural order of things. But our exchange-oriented social order does not represent the natural order of things, and what it anomalously results in is of enormous – though perhaps ultimately self-destructive — consequence.
We think that one can already see a reversion to the historical norm in the expanding scope of Government entitlements -- medicare, social security, lavish Government employee pensions, and Obamacare. These are not welfare programs by which we, as a society, have voluntarily chosen to care for the least among us. They are instead involuntary transfers of wealth to those with the collective ability to access the power to enforce those transfers.

In principle, such programs are not different from the band of primitive hunter-gatherers who swoop down on the community of farmers, and take their harvest by force. There is no morally coherent or economically sound rationale that renders the raiders entitled to the wealth created by the labor and intelligence of the farmers. But in the span of human history, it is the raiders who usually win, and civilizations based on extraction of wealth by force have been the rule. We have been the exception.


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