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In praise of incompetence


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[Dec 29, 2019] The process of imbecilization of the West

Dec 29, 2019 | www.moonofalabama.org

vk , Dec 28 2019 15:28 utc | 4

One more example of the process of imbecilization of the West:

Millennials are turning to magic & astrology for 'empowerment' because liberal ideology failed them

Imbecilization is a normal historical process where intellectual declines follows the economic decline of a given empire. There's growing evidence the West is going through the same process.

A with any composite, complex historical process, imbecilization doesn't happen in a uniform and linear way. Economics was the first science that descended into pseudo-science in the capitalist world (after Marx dismantled Classic Economics). Philosophy followed. Erudite art degenerated after the fall of Modernism somewhere in the 1950s. Human sciences in general became fragmented and little more than a constelation of esoterism and pseudo-sciences - a condition they still enjoy today (e.g. the dismembering of History into Sociology, Behavioral Economics and others).

Meanwhile, the so-called STEM or "Hard Sciences" continued to prosper for some decades, until they also hit a ceiling in the 1990s. The fall of the profitability of the capitalist world led it to resort to "financialization" to keep the system going, which resulted in the most brilliant capitalist mathematicians to be hosed to Wall Street instead to the likes of NASA. Those MIT mathematicians and rocket scientists created the algorithms Wall Street still uses today, but they did not stop the 2008 meltdown.

Nowadays, those brilliant STEM minds are nothing more than fraudsters who keep their careers going by creating meaningless experiments (because they need the funding) only to publish articles and keep their production quotas or self-censuring bootlickers for Wall Street and Big Pharma. When they get to work for a big corporation, they are mere architects of planned obsolescence or patent renewing. There's a new book I strongly recommend all of you to read:

Silent Conflict: A Hidden History of Early Soviet-Western Relations , by Michael Jabara Carley

Here's an interview with him in Sputnik News , in the occasion of this book's release.


[Sep 21, 2019] In Praise of Mediocrity by Tim Wu

Notable quotes:
"... I'm a little surprised by how many people tell me they have no hobbies. It may seem a small thing, but -- at the risk of sounding grandiose -- I see it as a sign of a civilization in decline. The idea of leisure, after all, is a hard-won achievement; it presupposes that we have overcome the exigencies of brute survival. Yet here in the United States, the wealthiest country in history, we seem to have forgotten the importance of doing things solely because we enjoy them. ..."
"... But there's a deeper reason, I've come to think, that so many people don't have hobbies: We're afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation -- itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age -- that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our "hobbies," if that's even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be. ..."
"... If you're a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you're training for the next marathon. If you're a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby -- you're a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber -- you'd better be good at it, or else who are you? ..."
"... Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it. Hobbies, let me remind you, are supposed to be something different from work. But alien values like "the pursuit of excellence" have crept into and corrupted what was once the realm of leisure, leaving little room for the true amateur. The population of our country now seems divided between the semipro hobbyists (some as devoted as Olympic athletes) and those who retreat into the passive, screeny leisure that is the signature of our technological moment. ..."
"... Liberty and equality are supposed to make possible the pursuit of happiness. It would be unfortunate if we were to protect the means only to neglect the end. ..."
"... Lest this sound suspiciously like an elaborate plea for people to take more time off from work -- well, yes. Though I'd like to put the suggestion more grandly: The promise of our civilization, the point of all our labor and technological progress, is to free us from the struggle for survival and to make room for higher pursuits. ..."
Oct 10, 2018 | www.nytimes.com

I'm a little surprised by how many people tell me they have no hobbies. It may seem a small thing, but -- at the risk of sounding grandiose -- I see it as a sign of a civilization in decline. The idea of leisure, after all, is a hard-won achievement; it presupposes that we have overcome the exigencies of brute survival. Yet here in the United States, the wealthiest country in history, we seem to have forgotten the importance of doing things solely because we enjoy them.

Yes, I know: We are all so very busy. Between work and family and social obligations, where are we supposed to find the time?

But there's a deeper reason, I've come to think, that so many people don't have hobbies: We're afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation -- itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age -- that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our "hobbies," if that's even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.

If you're a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you're training for the next marathon. If you're a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby -- you're a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber -- you'd better be good at it, or else who are you?

Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it. Hobbies, let me remind you, are supposed to be something different from work. But alien values like "the pursuit of excellence" have crept into and corrupted what was once the realm of leisure, leaving little room for the true amateur. The population of our country now seems divided between the semipro hobbyists (some as devoted as Olympic athletes) and those who retreat into the passive, screeny leisure that is the signature of our technological moment.

I don't deny that you can derive a lot of meaning from pursuing an activity at the highest level. I would never begrudge someone a lifetime devotion to a passion or an inborn talent. There are depths of experience that come with mastery. But there is also a real and pure joy, a sweet, childlike delight, that comes from just learning and trying to get better. Looking back, you will find that the best years of, say, scuba-diving or doing carpentry were those you spent on the learning curve, when there was exaltation in the mere act of doing.

In a way that we rarely appreciate, the demands of excellence are at war with what we call freedom. For to permit yourself to do only that which you are good at is to be trapped in a cage whose bars are not steel but self-judgment. Especially when it comes to physical pursuits, but also with many other endeavors, most of us will be truly excellent only at whatever we started doing in our teens. What if you decide in your 40s, as I have, that you want to learn to surf? What if you decide in your 60s that you want to learn to speak Italian? The expectation of excellence can be stultifying.

Liberty and equality are supposed to make possible the pursuit of happiness. It would be unfortunate if we were to protect the means only to neglect the end. A democracy, when it is working correctly, allows men and women to develop into free people; but it falls to us as individuals to use that opportunity to find purpose, joy and contentment.

Lest this sound suspiciously like an elaborate plea for people to take more time off from work -- well, yes. Though I'd like to put the suggestion more grandly: The promise of our civilization, the point of all our labor and technological progress, is to free us from the struggle for survival and to make room for higher pursuits. But demanding excellence in all that we do can undermine that; it can threaten and even destroy freedom. It steals from us one of life's greatest rewards -- the simple pleasure of doing something you merely, but truly, enjoy.

Tim Wu ( @superwuster ) is a law professor at Columbia, the author of "The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads" and a contributing opinion writer. A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 30, 2018 , on Page SR 6 of the New York edition with the headline: In Praise of Mediocrity.

[Sep 19, 2019] Attributing Malice To Incompetence Dmitry Fadeyev

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. ~ Napoleon
Jul 03, 2012 | fadeyev.net

People look for reasons to get offended when they don't get the things they want. It's a defensive reaction against the feeling of powerlessness, of events not going according to plan because of outside forces you can't control. Instead of accepting your lack of control in a given situation, you attribute malice to some actor or other, so now it's no longer a case of you at the mercy of the world, it's a case of some other agent causing you grief -- it becomes personal. By attributing malice to, say, someone else's incompetence, you turn your powerlessness into battle. This appeases the ego because there is now the idea of somebody caring about what you want, of somebody reacting to your wishes, albeit negatively, rather than ignoring you altogether.

>>

Instead of trying to find an outlet for your anger, prevent it in the first place by destroying its fuel. Instead of assuming that things have got to go your way, assume that they will only probably go your way if you've made the right preparations, and if they don't, see if it was a lack of action on your part or simply a case of outside forces that you couldn't control, whether accounted for or not. If it's the former, learn from it, if the latter, be content knowing that you've done all that was in your power. The feeling of powerlessness comes from feeling the constraints of the world around you, but instead of seeing them as enemy forces that try to fight you to prevent your movement, see them as terrain you have to move around to get to where you want to be.

>>

To live under constraint is a misfortune, but there is no constraint to live under constraint.

Seneca

[Sep 19, 2019] In praise of incompetence by Willem Buiter

Dec 28, 2008 | ft.com / maverecon
A monopoly is a bad thing. It invites abuse of the power it controls. Sometimes it is not the worst thing that could happen. Anarchy or the 'state of nature', can be worse. I don't know whether Thomas Hobbes was right for all time and places in asserting that man is not by nature a social animal and that society could not exist except by the power of the state - the wielder of the monopoly of legitimate coercive power.

There may have been some bucolic, idyllic communities that dispensed with the institution of the state, where the fundamental rights of people ( life, health, liberty) and property rights could be enforced effectively by individual action or through acts of spontaneous cooperation without external, third-party enforcement. But once we get to communities exceeding a dozen or at most a gross of people, an institution endowed with the monopoly on the legitimate use of force against its own citizens appears to have evolved, to have been created or to have been imposed everywhere.

>>

From Chapter 13 of The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes's rhetoric in making the case for the state in human affairs, is magnificent :

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal.

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. "

>>

As positive descriptions, that is, characterizations of what is likely to happen without a minimally effective state, rather than of what ought to happen, I much prefer Hobbes to Locke. However, as a normative characterization of what ought to be in the state of nature, and of how the institution of government and the state can be made to serve the interests and rights of man, I'm with Locke.

According to Locke, "The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it" , and that law is Reason. Reason teaches that "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions". When attempts by individuals to prevent or punish transgressions of natural law are ineffective, a limited and restricted role for government emerges "naturally".

>

Locke's view of the state of nature is in part motivated from his Christian belief: the reason we may not harm another human being is that we are all God's children, and therefore the possessions of God. We do not own ourselves.

>>

The fact that we grant the state (and the government in charge of the instruments of the state) a normative raison d'être and acknowledge the universality of its presence in every historical organized human society, does not mean we should respect, let alone trust the state.

The state is a necessary evil. It is necessary for the reasons outlined by Hobbes, Locke and many other worldly philosophers. It is evil because I know of no example of a state that has not abused its power over its citizens. Nor do I know of a society where the state does not try to extend its control over the lives of the citizens to domains that are none of its business and that are not material to the performance of the key tasks of the state. Every action, legislative initiative, executive order, legal ruling or administrative decision must therefore be scrutinized with the eyes of a hawk and with a deep and abiding mistrust of both the motivations and the likely consequences of any state action or initiative.

The simple rule of thumb as regards both new and existing laws, rules and regulations should be: when in doubt, throw it out.

>>

Every restriction on our liberties - our right to speak, write, criticize and offend as we please, to act and organize in opposition to the government of the day, to embarrass it and to show it up by forcing it to look into the mirror of its own leaked secrets - must be resisted. We cannot afford to believe any government's protestations that it is acting in good faith and will safeguard the confidentiality of any information it extracts from us.

Public safety and national security are never sufficient reasons for restricting the freedom of the citizens. The primary duty of the state is to safeguard our freedom against internal and external threats. The primary duty of an informed citizenry is to limit the domain of the state - to keep the government under control and to prevent it from becoming a threat to our liberties.

>

The threat posed by our own government to our liberty and fundamental rights is a constant one. Most of the time it is a much greater, direct and immediate threat than that posed by foreign states (through conquest or extortion) or by external non-government agents, the violent NGOs like Al Qaeda.

>

In a limited number of countries a fair degree of personal and political freedom has been achieved during the past three or four centuries. I have been fortunate to always have been a resident in this blessed corner of the universe - in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the United States. I have, however, visited many countries where these freedoms never took hold or took hold but briefly and have been whittled away again.

>>

I have become convinced that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance against the encroachment by the powers of the state on the private domain. The better-intentioned a government professes to be, and the better-intentioned it truly is when it first gains office, the more it is to be distrusted.

After even the most liberal-minded, open-government-committed party takes hold of the reins of government, it takes never more than a single term of office, four years - five at the most - before paranoia takes over. Disagreement becomes dissent, dissent becomes disloyalty, disloyalty becomes betrayal and betrayal becomes treason.

The public interest merges seamlessly with the private interest of the incumbents. The state bureaucracy, where it has not been taken over by government loyalists on day one of the new administration, is gradually transformed into an arm of the government. Some formal checks and balances often remain, parliament and the courts among them, but they too are often feeble to begin with and weaken further as the term office of the incumbent government lengthens.

>

I have watched this process at work in the UK since I returned here in 1994. It was breath-taking and depressing to observe the transformation of New Labour after 1997, from the party of open government, human rights and civil liberties into an increasingly paranoid group of power-hogging and repressive political control freaks, who have done more damage to fundamental human rights in the past 11 years than any other (sequence of) government(s) in any comparable-length stretch of time since the Glorious Revolution.

>>

Fortunately, despite their worst intentions, they have not been very competent - a more competent government could have done much more damage to our freedom and civil liberties.

The price of freedom may be a weaker and less efficient state than a conventional utilitarian cost-benefit analysis would dictate. That is not surprising, as utilitarianism leads to paternalism (possibly with a detour via libertarian paternalism - the latest political oxymoron), and paternalism leads to authoritarianism and ultimately to totalitarianism as surely as the statement: " I'm from the government and I am here to help you" , will before long be followed by "and I know what is good for you, and for society at large - so up against the wall, you ." .

>

It is not possible, I believe, to have 'strong but limited' government or 'efficient and effective but restricted, bounded and confined' government. The reason is that the same capabilities that make a government (as the manager of the state) strong, efficient and effective in the the pursuit of set tasks and objectives, will also drive that government to increase the scale and scope of its ambitions and the degree of control it exercises over every aspect of our lives.

>

The historical-institutional processes that drive the evolution of the state are quite likely to result in an all-absorbing Leviathan. This is because the main actors competing for the control of the government and thus of the apparatus of the state are recruited by political processes that select for people with a hunger for power, ruthlessness, a belief that the ends justify the means and an unquestioned faith that the common good (as seen by the aspiring politico) always takes precedence over individual rights and liberties. We have to hobble this would-be Leviathan if we value what is left of our rights and liberties.

>

In the UK, restoring the power of parliament, badly eroded by the demise of the House of Lords as a serious upper chamber, would be a step towards restoring checks and balances, especially if the new upper chamber could be elected by proportional representation.

>

Cleaning up the incomprehensible structure of the UK judiciary, with some members of the judiciary cropping up in parliament and others in the executive, is also long overdue. A written, modern Bill of Rights would also help to redress the balance of power between the overweening executive and the rest - the timid, gutless and toothless parliament, the emasculated judiciary and the disenfranchised electorate.

>

But I doubt whether any of this will be enough to safeguard our freedom. Fortunately we have one firm ally: government incompetence and ignorance.

>>

So whenever I come across yet another egregious example of government inefficiency (be it waiting since 1989 for work on Cross Rail to start, another laptop with confidential information left on the train, interminable blockages of major access roads by non-synchronized excavations arranged by the electric power company, the gas company, the phone company, the cable TV company and the maintainer of the Greater London drains, or unsuccessful attempts to have a broken water mains repaired during a period when an Official Drought Order was in effect) I feel strangely uplifted. A government and a state apparatus that cannot punch their way out of a wet paper bag when it comes to so many important and useful things may not be able to mount much of a threat to our freedom and civil liberties after all.

The price of freedom is government inefficiency. An ignorant and uninformed state is the corner stone of liberty. Constitutional reform designed to limit the competence of the government and the quantity and quality of the information it has at its disposal should figure prominently in the next Queen's Speech.

December 28th, 2008 in Chindia , Culture , Economics , Environment , Ethics , European Union , Politics , Religion | Permalink

Selected Comments
  1. [ ] Buiter absolutely nails what New Labour have become. It's the perfect summation of everything that's happened since 1997 in two paragraphs. After even the most liberal-minded, open-government-committed party takes hold of the reins of [ ]

    Posted by: Nailed. at adoption curve dot net | December 28th, 2008 at 8:07 am | Report this comment

    >Faith in government is more important then being vigilant.

    If you list countries where the people most trust/distrust their government you will find that the countries where people believe their government will do the right thing are the more pleasant places on earth.

    >>

    If you don't trust government will do the right thing then you do not only have to live with inefficiencies but also with bridges crashing in rivers.

    Posted by: Von Hohenheim | December 28th, 2008 at 11:21 am | Report this comment

    >>As an American, I cannot believe you are capable of writing all that you have, with such conviction, clarity and truth, and yet not be able to see why our founding fathers saw the need to ensure that in order to safeguard these freedoms as coded in our constitution, they also saw the need to ensure the right of our electorate to wield marshal implements of force via the second amendment.

    Alas in hind-site, it has not done, nor will it ever do the Americans much good, as they are only a but a decade or so behind the UK in the state of their civil liberties.

    Perhaps the ignorance and incompetence of the electorate is more than evenly matched with the same on the part of the government, such would be paint a bleak picture for the civil liberties of any country.

    Posted by: Jason Drekler | December 28th, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Report this comment
  2. from the kirchner argentina

    and as a person who survived the internal exile under the military dictatorship by living in the inadvertent loopholes and oversights...
    hear! hear!

    Posted by: mangy cat | December 28th, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Report this comment

  3. I agree with your observations, but I don't think it is good idea to rely on incompetence to safeguard us from encroaching government. A few years ago there was an article (I think) in The Economist, arguing (with the example of Italy) that corruption there was positive as people could buy their way out of the more overbearing regulations.

    Relying on either corruption or incompetence to be there when you want it strikes me as foolish.
    Incidentally, while some forms of proportional representation might be a good idea, the one that politicians seem to lust after these days is the Party List system, which is clearly worse than the disease.

    Posted by: Alex | December 28th, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Report this comment

    >Willem, as usual your blog is antidepressive.

    But, I wonder whether the problem of government can really be solved by limiting the competence of goverment and restricting the information at its disposal.

    >

    People who need power may be more easily able to gain control of incompetent governments than competent ones. Transparency is necessary (but not sufficient) to hold public officials accountable.

    >>

    Because human nature is the root cause of governments abusing their power, this has to be taken account of in prevention.

    My solution would be for the right to vote, or stand for public office, or be employed as a journalist to be given to people who have passed an examination on Thomas Paine's ideas, in particular that goverment officials are public servants, and their postition is a temporary privilege, not a permamanent entitlement.

    Posted by: Michael | December 28th, 2008 at 10:08 pm | Report this comment
  4. "The polis was made for the amatuer. Its ideal was that every citizen should play his part in all of its many activities - an ideal that is recognizably descended from the generous homeric conception of arete as an all round excellence and an all round activity. It implies a respect for the wholeness or the oneness of life, and consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency - or rather a much higher idea of efficiency which exists not in one department of life, but in life itself.

    The state to be effective needs a loyal, blind and specialized machinery.

    >>

    If you want to undermine the power of the state then you need to revive the ancient Greek concept of polis. The Decision making process at all levels should me entrusted to the people who as citizens should have as their right and obligation the exercising for a short period of time of certain civil service duties in conformity with their knowledge and professional skills.

    Posted by: Bad Boy | December 29th, 2008 at 12:15 am | Report this comment
    >>[ ] FT.com | Willem Buiter's Maverecon | In praise of government incompetence

    "It was breath-taking and depressing to observe the transformation of New Labour after 1997, from the party of open government, human rights and civil liberties into an increasingly paranoid group of power-hogging and repressive political control freaks, who have done more damage to fundamental human rights in the past 11 years than any other (sequence of) government(s) in any comparable-length stretch of time since the Glorious Revolution." (tags: politics labour newlabour buiter willembuiter ft comment commentary) Filed under Play | [ ]

    Posted by: links for 2008-12-28 at adoption curve dot net | December 29th, 2008 at 1:02 am | Report this comment

    >>here, here, too.

    Unfortunately for us libertarians, this incompetence is going to be costly when

    1) trillions are spent as anti-depressants.
    2) regulations/taxes are built to counter balance the squeeling pigs at the troth.
    3) efficiencies are lost due to the large amount of effort navigating the loop holes.

    Posted by: bob goodwin | December 29th, 2008 at 8:19 am | Report this comment
  5. I'm with Will on this one. In my experience the only good governments are unpopular ones. All in all this piece seems to be a good argument for proportional representation. Let's have permanently hamstrung governments, then we can all be industrious, cultivate the earth, import commodities by sea, build commodiously, move and remove things using instruments which require much force, know the face of the earth, account for time, cultivate the arts, write letters, socialise and most of all, be free of fear. Which of course is what our political representatives want for us all, now don't they?

    Posted by: Johnstone | December 29th, 2008 at 11:29 am | Report this comment

  6. hear hear. I have witnessed first hand paternalistic and repressive regimes in the Middle East who use national security to legitimise their control and intrusion into the lives of their people.

    It is unbelievable that the Labour Govt is salami slicing away our liberty in much the same way and even more unbelievable that the people of this country, a country that first espoused and defended modern notions of liberty, should remain so passive and docile in the face of creeping tyranny.

    >>

    We are betraying every man and woman who sacrificed their own liberty in the face of oppression in order to defend ours.

    Posted by: Fadi | December 29th, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Report this comment
  7. [ ] 29th, 2008 · No Comments It was breath-taking and depressing to observe the transformation of New Labour after 1997, from the party [ ]

    Posted by: Quite | December 29th, 2008 at 3:05 pm | Report this comment

    >Professor Buiter,

    Like Alex, it seems to me that relying on government incompetence is not enough.

    >>

    During the twentieth century, totalitarian regimes managed to assume political control after public confidence had eroded because of the perceived incompetence of their predecessors. Perhaps a minimum level of competence is a necessary evil, but how is it ensured?

    The quote below from your blog may point to an answer, "After even the most liberal-minded, open-government-committed party takes hold of the reins of government, it takes never more than a single term of office, four years - five at the most - before paranoia takes over. Disagreement becomes dissent, dissent becomes disloyalty, disloyalty becomes betrayal and betrayal becomes treason. The public interest merges seamlessly with the private interest of the incumbents. The state bureaucracy, where it has not been taken over by government loyalists on day one of the new administration, is gradually transformed into an arm of the government."

    >

    Limiting individual politicians to one term in the government has merit or perhaps even to one term as an MP. It could be included in your ."written, modern Bill of Rights (which) would also help to redress the balance of power between the overweening executive and the rest - the timid, gutless and toothless parliament, the emasculated judiciary and the disenfranchised electorate".

    >>

    The elimination of a life-time career in parliamentary politics may make parliament less timid, gutless and toothless and even enhance government competence.

    Posted by: ROBERT | December 29th, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Report this comment
  8. Government may be inherently incompetent at certain functions, such as road repair, but they have proven themselves to be inherent experts at another function, repression.

    Thus I am not comforted one bit to know that an army of bureaucrats cannot build a better levee or process a basic permit within a month. These are not core competencies for a monopoly on coercive force. Applying coercive force - wars, death camps, extortion - is government's special talent and they are good at it I assure you.

    >

    The weakness in government's monopoly on legitimized coercive force is that this monopoly is granted, to varying degrees, by the people. When enough people feel repressed, a revolution can occur, the military can mutiny, or votes can be cast. Thus, to a certain degree, the people grant themselves their own level of freedom by being sufficiently fed up with their government.

    >>

    They also deny themselves freedom through theocracy, apathy, hatred for others, propensity toward war, tribalism, and nationalism (a synonym for patriotism or state-worship).

    Sustained freedom can only occur in societies that distrust their government and see it as "a necessary evil" to be controlled and scrutinized. If you want to know where the best place to live will be in 20 years, take a survey. I fear that most of the English speaking world now prefers totalitarianism.

    Posted by: Chris B | December 29th, 2008 at 11:10 pm | Report this comment
  9. Oops, wrong paste. Here is what I wanted to actually comment:

    " It is unbelievable that the Labour Govt is salami slicing away our liberty in much the same way and even more unbelievable that the people of this country, a country that first espoused and defended modern notions of liberty, should remain so passive and docile in the face of creeping tyranny. "

    >

    Buiter's argument, especially as it relates to New Labour, is ridiculous, and as the quote above has it backwards.

    >

    New Labour's major fault is that they are too poll driven (following rather than leading public opinion), and therefore they have been unwilling to resist the strong demand by a majority of the voters for more repression, less civil liberties, more state interference in private lives.

    >

    If you notice, the Tories have been campaigning for the same, but even further to the right, as it were.

    >

    The big driver is the growing number of elderly rentiers among voters, people who much prefer (the illusion of) safety to liberty, people who are just a little less authoritarian than the usual flog-n-hang them class.

    >

    ASBOs, CCTV, detention without trial, are all wildly popular with voters, and every time the government or the opposition want to pander to buy themselves some votes without spending they propose new nasty attacks on liberty, especially the liberty of nasty young people to misbehave and irritate their elders.

    >

    The greatest threat to liberty is not the parties, which only do what the polls tell them, but voters, whose demand for practical fascism has driven a lot of politics in the USA and the UK (and several other countries, as in many the baby boom generation has reached middle and old age) over the past 2-3 decades.

    >>

    These voters are sitting pretty, vested in careers, pensions, properties, and their main feeling is fear; they see all change as a threat, not an opportunity, a threat to their enjoyment of all they are vested in.

    Posted by: Blissex | December 30th, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Report this comment
  10. The efficient welfare state financed through progressive taxation is one of civilisation's greatest achievements.

    Posted by: Edward S | December 30th, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Report this comment

  11. An excellent good one.

    Implied, there is also a fine compliment for the EU Commission.
    A true antidepressant, indeed.

    Posted by: VS | December 31st, 2008 at 12:20 am | Report this comment
  12. "1125 A.D. In this year before Christmas King Henry sent from Normandy to England and gave instructions that all moneyers be deprived of their members Bishop Roger of Salisbury commanded them all to assemble at Winchester by Christmas. When they came hither they were then taken one by one, and each deprived of the right hand and the testicles below. All this was done in twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, and was entirely justified because they had ruined the whole country by the magnitude of their fraud which they paid for in full." - The Laud Chronicle (E)

    Posted by: All I want for Christmas.............. | December 31st, 2008 at 4:43 am | Report this comment

    >LCK,

    Who is Mosler?

    >>

    Gary Marshall

    Posted by: Gary Marshall | December 31st, 2008 at 7:30 am | Report this comment
  13. Couldn't agree more (unfortunately). I never could trust a government that just promised the "third way". >> Now I am starting to recognise how countries slip down a slippery slope towards being police states.

    Yours fearfully

    Posted by: C.A.Straws | December 31st, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Report this comment
    >>Gary Marshall,

    He is here - interesting reading for you:

    http://www.moslereconomics.com/mandatory-readings/soft-currency-economics/

    Posted by: lck | December 31st, 2008 at 2:13 pm | Report this comment
    >LCK,

    Thanks for the information. I shall read through it and get back to you on Thursday. Skimming through it, I am impressed by what little I have read.

    >>

    Gary Marshall

    Posted by: Gary Marshall | January 1st, 2009 at 6:57 am | Report this comment
    >Hello LCK,

    I read through Mr. Mosler's paper.

    >

    He looks at Government and its spending through the eyes of a monetarist. He makes some good points, but never really goes far enough.

    >

    I advocate the complete abolition of all taxation. It seems an absurd proposition. However, all one need do is add up the costs and benefits of Taxation to convince themselves.

    >

    The costs of Taxation are incalculably immense. The financial benefit of Taxation, interest savings, is nil when you examine the nation's finances from the nation's vantage.

    >

    Not one person has ever found the flaw in my argument, and they probably never will.

    >

    Mr. Buiter thinks incompetent Government is to be treasured, is a protection for its citizens and corporations. Only an economist would ever make such an absurd statement.

    >

    Well, how about a competent government firmly under control of its citizens? That to me is preferable.

    >

    And one may have it by forcing Government to approach its citizens every time it needs funds. Spend badly, and the reluctance of citizens to lend will neuter the Government.

    >>

    Thanks again for the information.

    Regards,
    Gary Marshall

    Posted by: Gary Marshall | January 1st, 2009 at 9:23 am | Report this comment
    >Thank you, Willem. A provocative article, but I find it somewhat one-sided. And surprising, in the current context.

    I think it is fair to say that, if the U.S. Financial Regulators had been more effective, we wouldn't be facing a crisis anywhere near as serious as what we face now.

    >

    So, are we to praise that incompetence?

    >

    It is true that it is almost impossible to identify when self-interest and ego take over from principle and altruism, even for the most self-critical of people. In formulating how the better models of Government are to work, this is usually addressed by incorporating various checks and balances, by ensuring transparency, and providing "the people" with the ability to redress the situation or system when necessary.

    >

    This was the thinking behind guaranteeing all U.S. Citizens the right to bear arms. However, the era when an armed citizenry had a reasonable opportunity to redress mis-Government is long past. Most mis-Government now is far more subtle; a phenomenon creeping over our rights by years of one tiny step at a time. Witness the juggling of Electoral boundaries in the U.S..

    >

    Growing up in the '60's, we all had a sense that humanity was invincible. There was nothing that we could not do, no challenge that we could not meet, if we all put our minds to it.

    >

    That spirit ended with the assassination of President Kennedy. But I wonder if that is really where we should let it lie?

    >

    One little book from the '60's which has stuck in the back of my mind ever since, is Paul & Percival Goodman's "Communitas". This was not about hippie communes, but a fascinating look at 3 different methods of socio-economic organization, drawing out the implications of each. What is fascinating, in the context of this article, is not just the scope of the authors' vision, but their ability to analyse the practical implications of those visions. Perhaps I need to add that all scenario's considered were fundamentally capitalist.

    >

    Perhaps the biggest curse we face, in such considerations, is that major changes to the entrenched structure are far easier to implement under the provocation of extreme trauma. And no one in their right mind is going to force that on any society.

    >

    But I think that giving up on the idea that Government can be more effective, or more appropriate is wrong.

    >

    It has been fascinating, for an "outsider", to watch the reactions of Economists to the Global Financial Crisis. One thing is clear – there is no one Economic Theory which is accepted as providing accurate guidance on how to resolve the crisis, or which can accurately predict the results of the measures implemented to date, and proposed for the future.

    >

    Granted, Economists are dealing with human behaviour, which resists simplistic formulations. But human behaviour can be shaped by good policy. And, in the long run, Economists can fall back on the same method Engineers & Scientists use when a problem becomes too intractable for analytic methods – simulation.

    >

    So at this time I would have expected FT to be commenting on the status of Economic theory. Instead, we find an article questioning the usefulness of Government?

    >>

    Thanks, Willem, for a stimulating article, however I am not happy with giving up the idea that we can effectively govern ourselves, any more than giving up on the goal of a sound theory of Economics.

    Posted by: plp15 | January 1st, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Report this comment
    >I agree with others that to rely on government incompetence is now unsafe. You forget the rise of professionalism.

    Through the works of various professionals and their organisations, they promote restrictions on personal liberties - eg via excessive political correctness, via too wide-ranging "anti-discriminatory" politics (that are, in reality, divisive), etc. They now hold excessive power over governments, such that their claimed 'egalitarian' aims are passed into law by those governments.

    >>

    Government does not need to be competent: the professionals will ensure effective application of those restrictions on personal liberty.

    Early man had no formal government, yet there was art, organisation, development, even trade. Society is not a creation of government; governments grew out of society, as a better form of group organisation. Sadly, government has also meant power and has given opportunities to those who seek power. Once, professionals acted as a restraining force
    on governments. Now they, and governments, have too much power.

    Posted by: Derek Tunnicliffe | January 1st, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Report this comment
  14. Dear Mr. Buiter,

    Why do you keep on calling the current Crisis as credit crisis and not "Fraud by the accountants or goverment" crisis ?
    Why don't you call for a jail punishment for the ones who failed and damaged our society severely ?

    Democracy is not just a system inwhich a majority determines, but much more a system which is run by the peopleand that on a daily base ?
    Why don't you speak of a democratic state as just a form of self-governance ?

    Why blame our leaders, while we, the people, have all the freedom to gain knowledge and wisdom to select the leaders.
    Why don't you blame us ?

    >>

    Greetings and a happy newyear from Holland to you all.

    Posted by: R van Rie | January 1st, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Report this comment
  15. The French business paper "Les Echos" of 19 Dec

    The short article is highly critical of US authorities "there is no effective control by American financial "gendarmes" (police)".

    >

    And it goes on "There is also no moral control, the professional code of ethics having been smashed by greed" and further "What is left is a long-lasting distrust in regard to financial jugglers*, the object of all suspicions".

    >>

    * in the German media called "derivative-junkies

    Posted by: J.J. | January 2nd, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Report this comment
  16. I have been thinking about this post, and I cannot accept it for one simple reason: THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. If we haven't just seen eight years of the wreckage that ghastly incompetence can leave, I must assume that you feel that it is something else that accounts for their grotesque actions.

    Posted by: Don the libertarian Democrat | January 2nd, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Report this comment

  17. Very interesting read which was forwarded to me by Davidson Heath (link to www.davidsonheath.com/blog

    >>).

    I have long been a believer that:

    (1) Government's role does not include participating in business.
    (2) Elected governments should be permitted to govern and not constantly have to worry about being defeated (like our minority parliament in Canada).
    (3) Checks and balances are good. Elected dictatorships are not.
    (4) Markets work (the current froth calling for more regulation in response to the US and world economic malaise is bizarre given that misguided and ever expanding US regulation dating back to 1938 and FDR's New Deal (read my blog entry at http://preview.tinyurl.com/8zcd2r for more detail) is what cause the current mess.)

    >

    Now as we find ourselves at the beginning of 2009 I find that I am both fearful and hopeful at the same time.

    >

    I am fearful that governments around the world are using the current economic crisis as an excuse to expand their role in society. Voters are scared and I fear government is using that fear to its own advantage - using it to justify its growth.

    >>

    I am hopeful that current political leadership will pull back its now formidable reach into business (with the US stimulus Obama is really becoming "CEO in Chief" as FORTUNE magazine pointed out) after our economies recover. Naive, I know.

    Posted by: Mark Mawhinney | January 4th, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Report this comment
    >>Happy New Year!, Willem (and all). Thanks for great blogging memories for 2008. Hopefully, more of the same for 2009 and on.

    Willem, you are an inspiration to all that believe in freedom and liberty from tyranny.(I particularly liked Jackson Hole!) Let us hope that the State's incompetence continues well into the future. If not, let REVOLUTION reign.

    Posted by: groucho | January 4th, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Report this comment
    >>If Mr Buiter and his cheering squad are so in love with incompetent government one would expect them to be moving to Zimbabwe which has the most incompetent government on Earth. They don't really want incompetent government, they want mistakes made in their favor. They want police to make mistakes on their intoxication tests, not others. They want government to miss their falsehoods on tax returns but collect enough from others so taxes don't have to be raised on others.

    I've worked in business, cooperatives, charities and government; it's not that government becomes incompetent, people__through putting their selfish interests ahead of the group or organization__make the organization less capable of accomplishing its tasks. A big part of the problem is that we all refuse to see our pursuit of our selfish interests as the root of the problem.

    Posted by: rayoflight | January 9th, 2009 at 1:08 am | Report this comment
  18. [ ] 2009. Unless you are a member of the NuLabour government, of course, in which case I hope that you read this, come to your senses, realise what you and your cronies have done, and hang [ ]

    Posted by: eurealist.co.uk " Blog Archive " End of year blogging lists | January 9th, 2009 at 7:49 am | Report this comment

  19. Perhaps, I, having twice experienced first hand how easy it is for a populist government to subvert democracy; am overly-pessimistic but I think "incompetence" is too benign a descriptor. They may be incompetent in their application but not, I believe, in their intent. >> To quote a comment made at a time of concentrated assaults by the French military, catholic church and a sizeable spread of popularly-elected right-wing politicians on French human rights (1890s): "Je participe, pour l'order; contre la justice et la verite." (I am, for the sake of order, against justice and truth.)

    Now that many people in democratic countries are about the feel the chill winds of severe economic hardship including unemployment and a poverty not seen since the early 20th century, so called "public security" laws will be an excellent mechanism for order to triumph over truth and justice. In this regard, I recommend Naomi Wolf's article in The Guardian of the 24th of April, 2007 entitled "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps". The word "America" can be substituted with the notionally democratic country of your choice.

    Posted by: dhome | January 16th, 2009 at 1:29 am | Report this comment
    >Dear Willem,

    I agree with the gist your analysis. However, the prescription of incompetent government, while interesting (and, I'm sure, issued with a degree of nonchalance), does seem to go too far.

    >

    Consider, for instance, whether a state that wields its antitrust powers incompetently can prevent the formation of cartels that expropriate the public and eventually capture the state? In modern society, there are too many areas that require the competent application of state power for state incompetence to be permissible.

    >>

    The only way around the problem of state encroachment is probably to enshrine the limited role of the state firmly in the constitutional acts of the polity and take measures to prevent the concentration of power, as the American colonists attempted to do. If consciousness among the public of the importance of such liberties is sufficiently strong, I believe they can be defended in the long run.

    Best,
    K Fjeldsted

    • About Willem Buiter

      >>

      Professor of European Political Economy, London School of Economics and Political Science; former chief economist of the EBRD, former external member of the MPC; adviser to international organisations, governments, central banks and private financial institutions.

[Jul 26, 2011] In praise of incompetence by Willem Buiter

December 28, 2008 | ft.com/maverecon
A monopoly is a bad thing. It invites abuse of the power it controls. Sometimes it is not the worst thing that could happen. Anarchy or the 'state of nature', can be worse. I don't know whether Thomas Hobbes was right for all time and places in asserting that man is not by nature a social animal and that society could not exist except by the power of the state - the wielder of the monopoly of legitimate coercive power.

There may have been some bucolic, idyllic communities that dispensed with the institution of the state, where the fundamental rights of people (life, health, liberty) and property rights could be enforced effectively by individual action or through acts of spontaneous cooperation without external, third-party enforcement. But once we get to communities exceeding a dozen or at most a gross of people, an institution endowed with the monopoly on the legitimate use of force against its own citizens appears to have evolved, to have been created or to have been imposed everywhere.

From Chapter 13 of The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes's rhetoric in making the case for the state in human affairs, is magnificent :

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal.

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

As positive descriptions, that is, characterizations of what is likely to happen without a minimally effective state, rather than of what ought to happen, I much prefer Hobbes to Locke. However, as a normative characterization of what ought to be in the state of nature, and of how the institution of government and the state can be made to serve the interests and rights of man, I'm with Locke.

According to Locke, "The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it", and that law is Reason. Reason teaches that "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions". When attempts by individuals to prevent or punish transgressions of natural law are ineffective, a limited and restricted role for government emerges 'naturally. Locke's view of the state of nature is in part motivated from his Christian belief: the reason we may not harm another human being is that we are all God's children, and therefore the possessions of God. We do not own ourselves.

The fact that we grant the state (and the government in charge of the instruments of the state) a normative raison d'être and acknowledge the universality of its presence in every historical organized human society, does not mean we should respect, let alone trust the state. The state is a necessary evil. It is necessary for the reasons outlined by Hobbes, Locke and many other worldly philosophers. It is evil because I know of no example of a state that has not abused its power over its citizens. Nor do I know of a society where the state does not try to extend its control over the lives of the citizens to domains that are none of its business and that are not material to the performance of the key tasks of the state. Every action, legislative initiative, executive order, legal ruling or administrative decision must therefore be scrutinized with the eyes of a hawk and with a deep and abiding mistrust of both the motivations and the likely consequences of any state action or initiative. The simple rule of thumb as regards both new and existing laws, rules and regulations should be: when in doubt, throw it out.

Every restriction on our liberties - our right to speak, write, criticize and offend as we please, to act and organize in opposition to the government of the day, to embarrass it and to show it up by forcing it to look into the mirror of its own leaked secrets - must be resisted. We cannot afford to believe any government's protestations that it is acting in good faith and will safeguard the confidentiality of any information it extracts from us. Public safety and national security are never sufficient reasons for restricting the freedom of the citizens. The primary duty of the state is to safeguard our freedom against internal and external threats. The primary duty of an informed citizenry is to limit the domain of the state - to keep the government under control and to prevent it from becoming a threat to our liberties.

The threat posed by our own government to our liberty and fundamental rights is a constant one. Most of the time it is a much greater, direct and immediate threat than that posed by foreign states (through conquest or extortion) or by external non-government agents, the violent NGOs like Al Qaeda.

In a limited number of countries a fair degree of personal and political freedom has been achieved during the past three or four centuries. I have been fortunate to always have been a resident in this blessed corner of the universe - in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the United States. I have, however, visited many countries where these freedoms never took hold or took hold but briefly and have been whittled away again.

I have become convinced that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance against the encroachment by the powers of the state on the private domain. The better-intentioned a government professes to be, and the better-intentioned it truly is when it first gains office, the more it is to be distrusted.

After even the most liberal-minded, open-government-committed party takes hold of the reins of government, it takes never more than a single term of office, four years - five at the most - before paranoia takes over. Disagreement becomes dissent, dissent becomes disloyalty, disloyalty becomes betrayal and betrayal becomes treason. The public interest merges seamlessly with the private interest of the incumbents. The state bureaucracy, where it has not been taken over by government loyalists on day one of the new administration, is gradually transformed into an arm of the government. Some formal checks and balances often remain, parliament and the courts among them, but they too are often feeble to begin with and weaken further as the term office of the incumbent government lengthens.

I have watched this process at work in the UK since I returned here in 1994. It was breath-taking and depressing to observe the transformation of New Labour after 1997, from the party of open government, human rights and civil liberties into an increasingly paranoid group of power-hogging and repressive political control freaks, who have done more damage to fundamental human rights in the past 11 years than any other (sequence of) government(s) in any comparable-length stretch of time since the Glorious Revolution. Fortunately, despite their worst intentions, they have not been very competent - a more competent government could have done much more damage to our freedom and civil liberties.

The price of freedom may be a weaker and less efficient state than a conventional utilitarian cost-benefit analysis would dictate. That is not surprising, as utilitarianism leads to paternalism (possibly with a detour via libertarian paternalism - the latest political oxymoron), and paternalism leads to authoritarianism and ultimately to totalitarianism as surely as the statement: "I'm from the government and I am here to help you", will before long be followed by "and I know what is good for you, and for society at large - so up against the wall, you ….".

It is not possible, I believe, to have 'strong but limited' government or 'efficient and effective but restricted, bounded and confined' government. The reason is that the same capabilities that make a government (as the manager of the state) strong, efficient and effective in the the pursuit of set tasks and objectives, will also drive that government to increase the scale and scope of its ambitions and the degree of control it exercises over every aspect of our lives.

The historical-institutional processes that drive the evolution of the state are quite likely to result in an all-absorbing Leviathan. This is because the main actors competing for the control of the government and thus of the apparatus of the state are recruited by political processes that select for people with a hunger for power, ruthlessness, a belief that the ends justify the means and an unquestioned faith that the common good (as seen by the aspiring politico) always takes precedence over individual rights and liberties. We have to hobble this would-be Leviathan if we value what is left of our rights and liberties.

In the UK, restoring the power of parliament, badly eroded by the demise of the House of Lords as a serious upper chamber, would be a step towards restoring checks and balances, especially if the new upper chamber could be elected by proportional representation. Cleaning up the incomprehensible structure of the UK judiciary, with some members of the judiciary cropping up in parliament and others in the executive, is also long overdue. A written, modern Bill of Rights would also help to redress the balance of power between the overweening executive and the rest - the timid, gutless and toothless parliament, the emasculated judiciary and the disenfranchised electorate.

But I doubt whether any of this will be enough to safeguard our freedom. Fortunately we have one firm ally: government incompetence and ignorance.

So whenever I come across yet another egregious example of government inefficiency (be it waiting since 1989 for work on Cross Rail to start, another laptop with confidential information left on the train, interminable blockages of major access roads by non-synchronized excavations arranged by the electric power company, the gas company, the phone company, the cable TV company and the maintainer of the Greater London drains, or unsuccessful attempts to have a broken water mains repaired during a period when an Official Drought Order was in effect) I feel strangely uplifted. A government and a state apparatus that cannot punch their way out of a wet paper bag when it comes to so many important and useful things may not be able to mount much of a threat to our freedom and civil liberties after all.

The price of freedom is government inefficiency. An ignorant and uninformed state is the corner stone of liberty. Constitutional reform designed to limit the competence of the government and the quantity and quality of the information it has at its disposal should figure prominently in the next Queen's Speech.

December 28th, 2008 in Chindia, Culture, Economics, Environment, Ethics, European Union, Politics, Religion | Permalink

Selected Comments
  1. […] Buiter absolutely nails what New Labour have become. It's the perfect summation of everything that's happened since 1997 in two paragraphs. After even the most liberal-minded, open-government-committed party takes hold of the reins of […]

    Posted by: Nailed. at adoption curve dot net | December 28th, 2008 at 8:07 am | Report this comment

  2. Faith in government is more important then being vigilant. If you list countries where the people most trust/distrust their government you will find that the countries where people believe their government will do the right thing are the more pleasant places on earth. If you don't trust government will do the right thing then you do not only have to live with inefficiencies but also with bridges crashing in rivers.

    Posted by: Von Hohenheim | December 28th, 2008 at 11:21 am | Report this comment

  3. As an American, I cannot believe you are capable of writing all that you have, with such conviction, clarity and truth, and yet not be able to see why our founding fathers saw the need to ensure that in order to safeguard these freedoms as coded in our constitution, they also saw the need to ensure the right of our electorate to wield marshal implements of force via the second amendment.

    Alas in hind-site, it has not done, nor will it ever do the Americans much good, as they are only a but a decade or so behind the UK in the state of their civil liberties. Perhaps the ignorance and incompetence of the electorate is more than evenly matched with the same on the part of the government, such would be paint a bleak picture for the civil liberties of any country.

    Posted by: Jason Drekler | December 28th, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Report this comment
  4. from the kirchner argentina
    and as a person who survived the internal exile under the military dictatorship by living in the inadvertent loopholes and oversights...
    hear! hear!

    Posted by: mangy cat | December 28th, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Report this comment

  5. I agree with your observations, but I don't think it is good idea to rely on incompetence to safeguard us from encroaching government. A few years ago there was an article (I think) in The Economist, arguing (with the example of Italy) that corruption there was positive as people could buy their way out of the more overbearing regulations.

    Relying on either corruption or incompetence to be there when you want it strikes me as foolish.
    Incidentally, while some forms of proportional representation might be a good idea, the one that politicians seem to lust after these days is the Party List system, which is clearly worse than the disease.

    Posted by: Alex | December 28th, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Report this comment

  6. Willem, as usual your blog is antidepressive.

    But, I wonder whether the problem of government can really be solved by limiting the competence of goverment and restricting the information at its disposal.

    People who need power may be more easily able to gain control of incompetent governments than competent ones. Transparency is necessary (but not sufficient) to hold public officials accountable.

    Because human nature is the root cause of governments abusing their power, this has to be taken account of in prevention.

    My solution would be for the right to vote, or stand for public office, or be employed as a journalist to be given to people who have passed an examination on Thomas Paine's ideas, in particular that goverment officials are public servants, and their postition is a temporary privilege, not a permamanent entitlement.

    Posted by: Michael | December 28th, 2008 at 10:08 pm | Report this comment
  7. "The polis was made for the amatuer. Its ideal was that every citizen should play his part in all of its many activities - an ideal that is recognizably descended from the generous homeric conception of arete as an all round excellence and an all round activity. It implies a respect for the wholeness or the oneness of life, and consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency - or rather a much higher idea of efficiency which exists not in one department of life, but in life itself. A man owed it to himself, as well as to the polis, to be everything in turn." The Greeks by H.D.F.Kitto.

    The state to be effective needs a loyal, blind and specialized machinery.

    If you want to undermine the power of the state then you need to revive the ancient Greek concept of polis. The Decision making process at all levels should me entrusted to the people who as citizens should have as their right and obligation the exercising for a short period of time of certain civil service duties in conformity with their knowledge and professional skills.

    Posted by: Bad Boy | December 29th, 2008 at 12:15 am | Report this comment
  8. […] FT.com | Willem Buiter's Maverecon | In praise of government incompetence

    "It was breath-taking and depressing to observe the transformation of New Labour after 1997, from the party of open government, human rights and civil liberties into an increasingly paranoid group of power-hogging and repressive political control freaks, who have done more damage to fundamental human rights in the past 11 years than any other (sequence of) government(s) in any comparable-length stretch of time since the Glorious Revolution." (tags: politics labour newlabour buiter willembuiter ft comment commentary) Filed under Play | […]

    Posted by: links for 2008-12-28 at adoption curve dot net | December 29th, 2008 at 1:02 am | Report this comment

  9. here, here, too.

    Unfortunately for us libertarians, this incompetence is going to be costly when

    1) trillions are spent as anti-depressants.
    2) regulations/taxes are built to counter balance the squeeling pigs at the troth.
    3) efficiencies are lost due to the large amount of effort navigating the loop holes.

    Posted by: bob goodwin | December 29th, 2008 at 8:19 am | Report this comment
  10. I'm with Will on this one. In my experience the only good governments are unpopular ones. All in all this piece seems to be a good argument for proportional representation. Let's have permanently hamstrung governments, then we can all be industrious, cultivate the earth, import commodities by sea, build commodiously, move and remove things using instruments which require much force, know the face of the earth, account for time, cultivate the arts, write letters, socialise and most of all, be free of fear. Which of course is what our political representatives want for us all, now don't they?

    Posted by: Johnstone | December 29th, 2008 at 11:29 am | Report this comment

  11. hear hear. I have witnessed first hand paternalistic and repressive regimes in the Middle East who use national security to legitimise their control and intrusion into the lives of their people.

    It is unbelievable that the Labour Govt is salami slicing away our liberty in much the same way and even more unbelievable that the people of this country, a country that first espoused and defended modern notions of liberty, should remain so passive and docile in the face of creeping tyranny.

    We are betraying every man and woman who sacrificed their own liberty in the face of oppression in order to defend ours.

    Posted by: Fadi | December 29th, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Report this comment
  12. […] 29th, 2008 · No Comments It was breath-taking and depressing to observe the transformation of New Labour after 1997, from the party […]

    Posted by: Quite | December 29th, 2008 at 3:05 pm | Report this comment

  13. Professor Buiter,

    Like Alex, it seems to me that relying on government incompetence is not enough.

    During the twentieth century, totalitarian regimes managed to assume political control after public confidence had eroded because of the perceived incompetence of their predecessors. Perhaps a minimum level of competence is a necessary evil, but how is it ensured?

    The quote below from your blog may point to an answer, "After even the most liberal-minded, open-government-committed party takes hold of the reins of government, it takes never more than a single term of office, four years - five at the most - before paranoia takes over. Disagreement becomes dissent, dissent becomes disloyalty, disloyalty becomes betrayal and betrayal becomes treason. The public interest merges seamlessly with the private interest of the incumbents. The state bureaucracy, where it has not been taken over by government loyalists on day one of the new administration, is gradually transformed into an arm of the government."

    Limiting individual politicians to one term in the government has merit or perhaps even to one term as an MP. It could be included in your…."written, modern Bill of Rights (which) would also help to redress the balance of power between the overweening executive and the rest - the timid, gutless and toothless parliament, the emasculated judiciary and the disenfranchised electorate".

    The elimination of a life-time career in parliamentary politics may make parliament less timid, gutless and toothless and even enhance government competence.

    Posted by: ROBERT | December 29th, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Report this comment
  14. Government may be inherently incompetent at certain functions, such as road repair, but they have proven themselves to be inherent experts at another function, repression.

    Thus I am not comforted one bit to know that an army of bureaucrats cannot build a better levee or process a basic permit within a month. These are not core competencies for a monopoly on coercive force. Applying coercive force - wars, death camps, extortion - is government's special talent and they are good at it I assure you.

    The weakness in government's monopoly on legitimized coercive force is that this monopoly is granted, to varying degrees, by the people. When enough people feel repressed, a revolution can occur, the military can mutiny, or votes can be cast. Thus, to a certain degree, the people grant themselves their own level of freedom by being sufficiently fed up with their government.

    They also deny themselves freedom through theocracy, apathy, hatred for others, propensity toward war, tribalism, and nationalism (a synonym for patriotism or state-worship).

    Sustained freedom can only occur in societies that distrust their government and see it as "a necessary evil" to be controlled and scrutinized. If you want to know where the best place to live will be in 20 years, take a survey. I fear that most of the English speaking world now prefers totalitarianism.

    Posted by: Chris B | December 29th, 2008 at 11:10 pm | Report this comment
  15. Oops, wrong paste. Here is what I wanted to actually comment:

    "It is unbelievable that the Labour Govt is salami slicing away our liberty in much the same way and even more unbelievable that the people of this country, a country that first espoused and defended modern notions of liberty, should remain so passive and docile in the face of creeping tyranny."

    Buiter's argument, especially as it relates to New Labour, is ridiculous, and as the quote above has it backwards.

    New Labour's major fault is that they are too poll driven (following rather than leading public opinion), and therefore they have been unwilling to resist the strong demand by a majority of the voters for more repression, less civil liberties, more state interference in private lives.

    If you notice, the Tories have been campaigning for the same, but even further to the right, as it were.

    The big driver is the growing number of elderly rentiers among voters, people who much prefer (the illusion of) safety to liberty, people who are just a little less authoritarian than the usual flog-n-hang them class.

    ASBOs, CCTV, detention without trial, … are all wildly popular with voters, and every time the government or the opposition want to pander to buy themselves some votes without spending they propose new nasty attacks on liberty, especially the liberty of nasty young people to misbehave and irritate their elders.

    The greatest threat to liberty is not the parties, which only do what the polls tell them, but voters, whose demand for practical fascism has driven a lot of politics in the USA and the UK (and several other countries, as in many the baby boom generation has reached middle and old age) over the past 2-3 decades.

    These voters are sitting pretty, vested in careers, pensions, properties, and their main feeling is fear; they see all change as a threat, not an opportunity, a threat to their enjoyment of all they are vested in.

    Posted by: Blissex | December 30th, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Report this comment
  16. The efficient welfare state financed through progressive taxation is one of civilisation's greatest achievements.

    Posted by: Edward S | December 30th, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Report this comment

  17. An excellent good one.

    Implied, there is also a fine compliment for the EU Commission.
    A true antidepressant, indeed.

    Posted by: VS | December 31st, 2008 at 12:20 am | Report this comment
  18. "1125 A.D. In this year before Christmas King Henry sent from Normandy to England and gave instructions that all moneyers … be deprived of their members … Bishop Roger of Salisbury commanded them all to assemble at Winchester by Christmas. When they came hither they were then taken one by one, and each deprived of the right hand and the testicles below. All this was done in twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, and was entirely justified because they had ruined the whole country by the magnitude of their fraud which they paid for in full." - The Laud Chronicle (E)

    Posted by: All I want for Christmas.............. | December 31st, 2008 at 4:43 am | Report this comment

  19. LCK,

    Who is Mosler?

    Gary Marshall

    Posted by: Gary Marshall | December 31st, 2008 at 7:30 am | Report this comment
  20. Couldn't agree more (unfortunately). I never could trust a government that just promised the "third way".
    Now I am starting to recognise how countries slip down a slippery slope towards being police states.

    Yours fearfully…

    Posted by: C.A.Straws | December 31st, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Report this comment
  21. Gary Marshall,

    He is here - interesting reading for you:

    http://www.moslereconomics.com/mandatory-readings/soft-currency-economics/

    Posted by: lck | December 31st, 2008 at 2:13 pm | Report this comment
  22. LCK,

    Thanks for the information. I shall read through it and get back to you on Thursday. Skimming through it, I am impressed by what little I have read.

    Gary Marshall

    Posted by: Gary Marshall | January 1st, 2009 at 6:57 am | Report this comment
  23. Hello LCK,

    I read through Mr. Mosler's paper.

    He looks at Government and its spending through the eyes of a monetarist. He makes some good points, but never really goes far enough.

    I advocate the complete abolition of all taxation. It seems an absurd proposition. However, all one need do is add up the costs and benefits of Taxation to convince themselves.

    The costs of Taxation are incalculably immense. The financial benefit of Taxation, interest savings, is nil when you examine the nation's finances from the nation's vantage.

    Not one person has ever found the flaw in my argument, and they probably never will.

    Mr. Buiter thinks incompetent Government is to be treasured, is a protection for its citizens and corporations. Only an economist would ever make such an absurd statement.

    Well, how about a competent government firmly under control of its citizens? That to me is preferable.

    And one may have it by forcing Government to approach its citizens every time it needs funds. Spend badly, and the reluctance of citizens to lend will neuter the Government.

    Thanks again for the information.

    Regards,
    Gary Marshall

    Posted by: Gary Marshall | January 1st, 2009 at 9:23 am | Report this comment
  24. Thank you, Willem. A provocative article, but I find it somewhat one-sided. And surprising, in the current context.

    I think it is fair to say that, if the U.S. Financial Regulators had been more effective, we wouldn't be facing a crisis anywhere near as serious as what we face now.

    So, are we to praise that incompetence?

    It is true that it is almost impossible to identify when self-interest and ego take over from principle and altruism, even for the most self-critical of people. In formulating how the better models of Government are to work, this is usually addressed by incorporating various checks and balances, by ensuring transparency, and providing "the people" with the ability to redress the situation or system when necessary.

    This was the thinking behind guaranteeing all U.S. Citizens the right to bear arms. However, the era when an armed citizenry had a reasonable opportunity to redress mis-Government is long past. Most mis-Government now is far more subtle; a phenomenon creeping over our rights by years of one tiny step at a time. Witness the juggling of Electoral boundaries in the U.S..

    Growing up in the '60's, we all had a sense that humanity was invincible. There was nothing that we could not do, no challenge that we could not meet, if we all put our minds to it.

    That spirit ended with the assassination of President Kennedy. But I wonder if that is really where we should let it lie?

    One little book from the '60's which has stuck in the back of my mind ever since, is Paul & Percival Goodman's "Communitas". This was not about hippie communes, but a fascinating look at 3 different methods of socio-economic organization, drawing out the implications of each. What is fascinating, in the context of this article, is not just the scope of the authors' vision, but their ability to analyse the practical implications of those visions. Perhaps I need to add that all scenario's considered were fundamentally capitalist.

    Perhaps the biggest curse we face, in such considerations, is that major changes to the entrenched structure are far easier to implement under the provocation of extreme trauma. And no one in their right mind is going to force that on any society.

    But I think that giving up on the idea that Government can be more effective, or more appropriate is wrong.

    It has been fascinating, for an "outsider", to watch the reactions of Economists to the Global Financial Crisis. One thing is clear – there is no one Economic Theory which is accepted as providing accurate guidance on how to resolve the crisis, or which can accurately predict the results of the measures implemented to date, and proposed for the future.

    Granted, Economists are dealing with human behaviour, which resists simplistic formulations. But human behaviour can be shaped by good policy. And, in the long run, Economists can fall back on the same method Engineers & Scientists use when a problem becomes too intractable for analytic methods – simulation.

    So at this time I would have expected FT to be commenting on the status of Economic theory. Instead, we find an article questioning the usefulness of Government?

    Thanks, Willem, for a stimulating article, however I am not happy with giving up the idea that we can effectively govern ourselves, any more than giving up on the goal of a sound theory of Economics.

    Posted by: plp15 | January 1st, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Report this comment
  25. I agree with others that to rely on government incompetence is now unsafe. You forget the rise of professionalism.

    Through the works of various professionals and their organisations, they promote restrictions on personal liberties - eg via excessive political correctness, via too wide-ranging "anti-discriminatory" politics (that are, in reality, divisive), etc. They now hold excessive power over governments, such that their claimed 'egalitarian' aims are passed into law by those governments.

    Government does not need to be competent: the professionals will ensure effective application of those restrictions on personal liberty.

    Early man had no formal government, yet there was art, organisation, development, even trade. Society is not a creation of government; governments grew out of society, as a better form of group organisation. Sadly, government has also meant power and has given opportunities to those who seek power. Once, professionals acted as a restraining force
    on governments. Now they, and governments, have too much power.

    Posted by: Derek Tunnicliffe | January 1st, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Report this comment
  26. Dear Mr. Buiter,

    Why do you keep on calling the current Crisis as credit crisis and not "Fraud by the accountants or goverment" crisis ?
    Why don't you call for a jail punishment for the ones who failed and damaged our society severely ?

    Democracy is not just a system inwhich a majority determines, but much more a system which is run by the peopleand that on a daily base ?
    Why don't you speak of a democratic state as just a form of self-governance ?

    Why blame our leaders, while we, the people, have all the freedom to gain knowledge and wisdom to select the leaders.
    Why don't you blame us ?

    Greetings and a happy newyear from Holland to you all.

    Posted by: R van Rie | January 1st, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Report this comment
  27. The French business paper "Les Echos" of 19 Dec
    on page 14 "IDEES" (Views) under the heading "La deuxième crise" attacks activities "hors sol", with reference to the Madoff scam.

    The short article is highly critical of US authorities "there is no effective control by American financial "gendarmes" (police)".

    And it goes on "There is also no moral control, the professional code of ethics having been smashed by greed" and further "What is left is a long-lasting distrust in regard to financial jugglers*, the object of all suspicions".

    * in the German media called "derivative-junkies

    Posted by: J.J. | January 2nd, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Report this comment
  28. I have been thinking about this post, and I cannot accept it for one simple reason: THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. If we haven't just seen eight years of the wreckage that ghastly incompetence can leave, I must assume that you feel that it is something else that accounts for their grotesque actions.

    Posted by: Don the libertarian Democrat | January 2nd, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Report this comment

  29. Very interesting read which was forwarded to me by Davidson Heath (link to www.davidsonheath.com/blog).

    I have long been a believer that:

    (1) Government's role does not include participating in business.
    (2) Elected governments should be permitted to govern and not constantly have to worry about being defeated (like our minority parliament in Canada).
    (3) Checks and balances are good. Elected dictatorships are not.
    (4) Markets work (the current froth calling for more regulation in response to the US and world economic malaise is bizarre given that misguided and ever expanding US regulation dating back to 1938 and FDR's New Deal (read my blog entry at http://preview.tinyurl.com/8zcd2r for more detail) is what cause the current mess.)

    Now as we find ourselves at the beginning of 2009 I find that I am both fearful and hopeful at the same time.

    I am fearful that governments around the world are using the current economic crisis as an excuse to expand their role in society. Voters are scared and I fear government is using that fear to its own advantage - using it to justify its growth.

    I am hopeful that current political leadership will pull back its now formidable reach into business (with the US stimulus Obama is really becoming "CEO in Chief" as FORTUNE magazine pointed out) after our economies recover. Naive, I know.

    Posted by: Mark Mawhinney | January 4th, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Report this comment
  30. Happy New Year!, Willem (and all). Thanks for great blogging memories for 2008. Hopefully, more of the same for 2009 and on.

    Willem, you are an inspiration to all that believe in freedom and liberty from tyranny.(I particularly liked Jackson Hole!) Let us hope that the State's incompetence continues well into the future. If not, let REVOLUTION reign.

    Posted by: groucho | January 4th, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Report this comment
  31. If Mr Buiter and his cheering squad are so in love with incompetent government one would expect them to be moving to Zimbabwe which has the most incompetent government on Earth. They don't really want incompetent government, they want mistakes made in their favor. They want police to make mistakes on their intoxication tests, not others. They want government to miss their falsehoods on tax returns but collect enough from others so taxes don't have to be raised on others.

    I've worked in business, cooperatives, charities and government; it's not that government becomes incompetent, people__through putting their selfish interests ahead of the group or organization__make the organization less capable of accomplishing its tasks. A big part of the problem is that we all refuse to see our pursuit of our selfish interests as the root of the problem.

    Posted by: rayoflight | January 9th, 2009 at 1:08 am | Report this comment
  32. […] 2009. Unless you are a member of the NuLabour government, of course, in which case I hope that you read this, come to your senses, realise what you and your cronies have done, and hang […]

    Posted by: eurealist.co.uk " Blog Archive " End of year blogging lists… | January 9th, 2009 at 7:49 am | Report this comment

  33. Perhaps, I, having twice experienced first hand how easy it is for a populist government to subvert democracy; am overly-pessimistic but I think "incompetence" is too benign a descriptor. They may be incompetent in their application but not, I believe, in their intent.
    To quote a comment made at a time of concentrated assaults by the French military, catholic church and a sizeable spread of popularly-elected right-wing politicians on French human rights (1890s): "Je participe, pour l'order; contre la justice et la verite." (I am, for the sake of order, against justice and truth.)

    Now that many people in democratic countries are about the feel the chill winds of severe economic hardship including unemployment and a poverty not seen since the early 20th century, so called "public security" laws will be an excellent mechanism for order to triumph over truth and justice. In this regard, I recommend Naomi Wolf's article in The Guardian of the 24th of April, 2007 entitled "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps". The word "America" can be substituted with the notionally democratic country of your choice.

    Posted by: dhome | January 16th, 2009 at 1:29 am | Report this comment
  34. Dear Willem,

    I agree with the gist your analysis. However, the prescription of incompetent government, while interesting (and, I'm sure, issued with a degree of nonchalance), does seem to go too far.

    Consider, for instance, whether a state that wields its antitrust powers incompetently can prevent the formation of cartels that expropriate the public and eventually capture the state? In modern society, there are too many areas that require the competent application of state power for state incompetence to be permissible.

    The only way around the problem of state encroachment is probably to enshrine the limited role of the state firmly in the constitutional acts of the polity and take measures to prevent the concentration of power, as the American colonists attempted to do. If consciousness among the public of the importance of such liberties is sufficiently strong, I believe they can be defended in the long run.

    Best,
    K Fjeldsted

    • About Willem Buiter

      Professor of European Political Economy, London School of Economics and Political Science; former chief economist of the EBRD, former external member of the MPC; adviser to international organisations, governments, central banks and private financial institutions.

Attributing Malice To Incompetence · Dmitry Fadeyev

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

Napoleon

Dmitry Fadeyev · July 3, 2012 People look for reasons to get offended when they don't get the things they want. It's a defensive reaction against the feeling of powerlessness, of events not going according to plan because of outside forces you can't control. Instead of accepting your lack of control in a given situation, you attribute malice to some actor or other, so now it's no longer a case of you at the mercy of the world, it's a case of some other agent causing you grief - it becomes personal. By attributing malice to, say, someone else's incompetence, you turn your powerlessness into battle. This appeases the ego because there is now the idea of somebody caring about what you want, of somebody reacting to your wishes, albeit negatively, rather than ignoring you altogether.

Instead of trying to find an outlet for your anger, prevent it in the first place by destroying its fuel. Instead of assuming that things have got to go your way, assume that they will only probably go your way if you've made the right preparations, and if they don't, see if it was a lack of action on your part or simply a case of outside forces that you couldn't control, whether accounted for or not. If it's the former, learn from it, if the latter, be content knowing that you've done all that was in your power. The feeling of powerlessness comes from feeling the constraints of the world around you, but instead of seeing them as enemy forces that try to fight you to prevent your movement, see them as terrain you have to move around to get to where you want to be.

To live under constraint is a misfortune, but there is no constraint to live under constraint.

Seneca

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