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The Rules for Rulers

CGP Grey · Youtube · 37 HN points · 106 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention CGP Grey's video "The Rules for Rulers".
Youtube Summary
Adapted from 'The Dictator's Handbook':

Part 2:

Grey discusses this video on Cortex:

Che Greyvara T-Shirt:

Special Thanks:

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita & Alastair Smith


Mark Govea, Thomas J Miller Jr MD, dedla , Robert Kunz, John Buchan, Ripta Pasay, Saki Comandao, Andres Villacres, Christian Cooper, Michael Little, PervertedThomas , Nevin Spoljaric, سليمان العقل, Tony DiLascio, Richard Jenkins, Chris Chapin, Faust Fairbrook, Jason Lewandowski, Michael Mrozek, Jordan LeDoux, Chris Woodall, rictic , Ian , Tod Kurt, Phil Gardner, Chang Wang, Kozo Ota, Jordan Melville, Martin , Steven Grimm, Joe Pantry, Colin Millions, Muhammad Shifaz, Chris Harshman, Jose Reyes, Guillermo , Ron Bowes, Tómas Árni Jónasson, Mikko , Derek Bonner, Derek Jackson, Orbit_Junkie , Timothy Basanov, David Michaels, Mark Elders, Donal Botkin, Veronica Peshterianu, Paul Tomblin, Travis Wichert, chrysilis , Ryan E Manning, Erik Parasiuk, Rhys Parry, Maarten van der Blij, Kevin Anderson, Ryan Nielsen, Esteban Santana Santana, Dag Viggo Lokøen, Tristan Watts-Willis, John Rogers, Edward Adams, Leon , ken mcfarlane, Brandon Callender, Timothy Moran, Peter Lomax, Emil , Tijmen van Dien, ShiroiYami , Alex Schuldberg, Ryan Constantin, Bear , Jacob Ostling, Solon Carter, Rescla , Hystiklopp , Andrew Proue, Tor Henrik Lehne, David Palomares, Cas Eliëns, Freddi Hørlyck, Ernesto Jimenez, Osric Lord-Williams, Maxime Zielony, Lachlan Holmes , John Lee, Ian N Riopel, AUFFRAY Clement, John Bevan, Robert Grünke (trainfart)

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There are 91 million people in the party, and more who want in. Getting party membership is a big part of getting ahead. (Edit: It's not a hivemind is what I'm saying here.)

All of those people have relationships that roll up and down. Rules for rulers and all that --

Give me a break...

No one needs party membership to do anything in private sectors...

Why the hell people still think about Chinese live like party farmed animals. For God's sake, get on YouTube search some Chinese speaking videos by normal people.

You are so echchambered that I start pitying you...

I think you misunderstood me here, I was trying to emphasize how big and varied the party's interests are. People often frame it like a singleminded machine.

I don't live there but I've heard a lot of people say that party membership is useful, not necessary mind you, for lots of business endeavors.

There's a whole other conversation about the differences in representation between the two countries, and I think China's system has some points in it's favor as far as "does this government act on behalf of it's people", but I was just trying to phrase things in a way that would get through to the typical HN reader.

Apologize, it was not come to me in that way.
Probably bad writing on my part too, there's 2 sides to every misunderstanding :)
> Edit: It's not a hivemind is what I'm saying here.

Perhaps I didn't use the best term, but it seems you're saying the same thing I did? My point was precisely that the actions of the party as a whole aren't collective actions directed by a single person's mind (xi's) but rather the sum of all the party members ideas and political movements, so it's just as complex as a democracy.

Yeah, I was adding detail rather than disagreeing.
Speaking of the power of farmers… The relevant clip is just 20 seconds long.
That is excellent.

Relevant - John Mellencamp using his hit song to siphon off subsidies to his family and relatives.

My argument would be that the nation state exists as a useful tool/ mechanism for collecting and organizing power for people at the top. It justifies it's existence through might not right, so saying it shouldn't exist because it's not right misses the point.

It is there because they want it to be there and to get rid of it, you need to create something more powerful to overcome that other thing. This historically is possible but just turns into its own state.

Power vacuums are a very real thing though intangible.

But simply having the subjects of a state lose faith in it is not itself sufficient to topple it. I mean look at current congressional approval ratings in the US. They are approaching single digits but it means nothing because there is no real structure in place to challenge it.

I apologize if the initial post was condescending. It's a well written article but I still perceive it as naive to the larger structures which hold this stuff in place.

There's a great YouTube video (imo) on the topic of state level power dynamics if you are interested

Aug 22, 2020 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by atlasunshrugged
Here's a YouTube video that summarizes the Dictator's Handbook. It gives an explanation about how the perspective of a dictator/autocrat is different than than someone who is in charge of a democratic organization. Basically, the fewer people you have to answer to, the more you need to reward those few followers by stealing from everyone else. This forms a pyramid scheme where everyone is trying to take as much as they can so they can then redistribute the spoils to their key supporters.

See also "Rules for Rulers" from CGP Grey for an animated treatment

Worth appreciating the economic dynamic the article is based on:

Basic issue is that when a government can fund itself using resource extraction, it does not need the consent of a nation of people who would otherwise make up a tax base, so they pay the army and police out of oil money to keep them in power, and the average citizen is reduced to a subject. Trouble is, if all you need for power is control of the resources, it's not like you need to spend on winning hearts and minds when you can seize the resources with a relatively small rebel group. Given the high stakes of oil/resource billions and the very low bar to entry for cheap rebellions to seize them, these incentives are a recipe for the political shit shows we tend to associate with some resource cursed economies.

The predictable effect of oil price collapse is that leaders can no longer guarantee those payouts to the people who keep them in power, and as a result, those people will replace them with someone who can keep paying them. This is described in the DeMesquita-based idea of the "Rules for Rulers" video (, which is related to the article's closing line about leaders getting their peoples consent.

The "Arab World," is a diverse place with a variety of multilateral interests so there are more dimensions to the outcomes than this, but the most obvious risk is that China will prop up whoever they can control in exchange for oil, and the mid-east will become the field for an China/US proxy war. The next risk is that unfortunately, if Arab leaders are reduced to winning hearts and minds to stay in power, they may do it with appeals to religious radicalism instead of democracy, which will bring about another era of state sponsored terrorism, that again, invites war.

Nice that we're using less oil which is good for the planet, but there is the small matter in the interim of what is good for humanity. The people who lose in these conflicts are never the participants, but the ones caught between them. These people will form new waves of refugees from the conflicts that can bring additional instability.

The precise knock-on effects of an oil price collapse can't be predicted, but you can anticipate the change in downstream volatility, and find a way to become indispensable in volatile times.

It is a lot easier to win the hearts of the people when you don't have to tax them to give them whatever will interest them.
> It's not strictly a "wrong leaders" problem. It's much more systemic than that. Elect a good leader and the oil will provide the impetus to tear that leader down.

See also, The Dictator's Handbook, summarized well by CGP Grey's video "The Rules for Rulers" (

It's an unstable equilibrium to run a country on a wide power base, if it has centralized resource-extraction economy; as any dictator who just plans on staging a coup to take the oil and then reward their few revolutionaries with it, will be able to win over pretty much anyone from the previous wide-base government, who was previously getting a much-smaller slice of the pie.

Impatience wasn't the excuse. People are plenty patient. Game theory and organizational dynamics are more of an excuse. It turns out democracies don't work like that.

I'd recommend The Dictator's Handbook to understand why that won't work, but you don't seem like the sort to read books. Rules for Rulers is a nice summary:

"you don't seem like the sort to read books".

That's obnoxious, and you know it. I have hundreds of books that I have read in my home, although they probably overlap little with your collection.

You'd be surprised just at how much overlap there might be. I'm a parent, and I still have a nice collection of board books left over from toddlerhood.

Obnoxious is injecting 3-word snide comments when people want to have serious discussions about governance and corruption. If you have something serious to say, please contribute. I'm serious about that -- different points of view are good. If you don't have something to contribute, and you just want to make a douche of yourself, you can expect people to respond in kind.

But what the people with tear gas can get away with is partly determined by where public opinion is. And even if the laws about restricting police and military actions are often worthless, other laws matter. Like budgets, and procurement rules. Police can't fire tear gas if they can't buy it.

The logic here goes something like: The citizens are unhappy -> The unhappiness translates into different politicians -> Those politicians will de-fund what made the citizens unhappy.

That logic only works if you take politicians at their word. But politics is a sticky thing. It seems a game of musical chairs, where the last one sitting is voted out, but the rest are sitting pretty. And there are so many chairs to fill.

To be blunt: We don't have power. And the protests are merely a reflection of that fact. Why would the politicians do anything but tell us what we want to hear, and then continue to do the same things? There's no benefit, political or otherwise, in giving us what we want. is a nice refresher on some of the issues.

That's one causal path, but I don't think it's the only one.

Crises can also lead to pressure on politicians, who pass laws that have an impact even after the crisis is over, sometimes even good ones. The PATRIOT Act isn't the only bill quickly passed out of fear.

Consider the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which ended redlining, and made it through partly out of fear of further rioting after MLK's assassination. That's a big deal, even if no politicians were voted out.

All the major cities that are having these issues are 1 party cities that enjoy their citizen duly re-electing them time and time and not getting anything they promised.

I think the two party system at the nation level is bad but nothing compared to how all major US cities are 1 party cites. Why change anything when the status quo keeps you in power and lets you fill your pockets.

Because you vote them out. The nra is powerful because they have voted people out.

The truth is most people don't really care about what they say they care about, so politicians can get away with not doing as they say. They are careful to do what they say when they have reason to believe voters actually care.

This week, without riots we cn get police reform through because they are afraid if they don't will remember and vote them out. Next week if we forget they won't. There is a reasonable conspiracy theory that the riots are sponsored by those who want police reforms to fail, but making the police the good guys (better than the increasing mob riot) laws won't pass. Might be unfounded, but it is reasonable.

Your postulate is generally correct on a quarterly time span. It's generally incorrect on a 5-year time-span. Good examples are Carly Fiorina gutting HP in ways which weren't immediately externally visible, or Bezos / Jobs pursuing tactics which took years to show value.

Key differences between the Board / shareholders and the CEO include:

(1) Amount of time available. Boards meet a few times, and it's exceptionally hard to get buy-in for something which doesn't have a concise executive summary. Shareholders have even less time.

(2) Insider information. Shareholders (and, to some extent, Boards) have far less inside information than the CEO.

If you'd like good evidence, the book "The Dictator's Handbook" builds a pretty good case that mirrors my experience operating at both executive and board levels. It's not a complete explanation, but I think it accounts for 50% of the types of dynamics described.

If full-length academic texts aren't your thing, CGP Grey has a nice summary on Youtube too:

>> The key skill CEOs need to be CEOs can be summarized as: "How to become a CEO."

> That's a very cynical and reductionist view

It may be cynical, but it mirrors my experience. It's definitely not reductionist. "How to become a CEO." is an incredible complex, intertwined set of skills. Some of those skills include effectively leading companies, but others do not.

It's not surprising. There's a theory which says that having resources that can be extracted from the ground makes it less likely that a country will develop on any axis - economically, in education, health, democracy etc.

There are many theories about why this happens [1] but the one that I agree with the most is the one found in the book The Dictator's Handbook - it's simply not in the interest of the ruler of such a place to develop the country. Here's a trailer of that book by CGPGrey -

[1] -

So why do countries like Canada, the U.S.A or Norway have persistent long-term prosperity? Furthermore why do many other middle-income countries have natural resources but still manage to incrementally see their overall quality of life improve?
We pay the dictators, they give us raw materials and our fair share of the surplus value from their slave's labor. The dictators enjoy glorious wealthy lifestyle and we get goods manufactured cheaply. Everybody wins.
I specifically mentioned three countries that are just what the comment above described, resource rich nations that gained a significant portion of their initial or long term wealth creation from the materials they extracted from their own soil, but somehow managed to remain relatively well administered, fairly free and mostly democratic. Your criticism has it's valid aspects but it's secondary to the point I was making.
We do a really good job of outsourcing slavery to colony nations.
Rules for Rulers by CGP Grey is a fantastic lesson in how this works:
I think this video from CGP Grey outlines some of the problems inherent in leading a state.

And then this essay details some game theory level issues of group dynamics in an iterative world:

In the end I think the best we can reasonable wish for, anywhere, is non-demented. Everything else is up to entropy, the whims of organized crime, and the pressures of evolution and information.

For me, several books by Greg Egan fall into this category. Permutation City, Diaspora, Quarantine, and Schild's Ladder have all... changed me.

I was a different person before and after I had read those books, and now I categorise all works of fiction into those that forever alter my way of thinking and those that do not.

Which reminds me, I should finish:

The Culture series by Iain Banks, especially Inversions also satisfy this requirement, as does The City at the End of Time by Greg Bear: -- which is a difficult to consume masterpiece that nonetheless left me permanently horrified in the way that H. P. Lovecraft tried but failed.

For the non-fiction category the CGP Grey video "The Rules for Rulers":

and Part 2:

have totally changed the way I look at all political discourse, and this is coming from someone who has already absorbed The Prince. It's based on the Dictator's Handbook, which I should read also, but the CGP video was an effective summary already!

Last, but not least, if I'm allowed to include lecture videos, then the "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" lecture by Al Bartlett is absolutely amazing. You will never see the news in the same way again after watching it:

Couldn't agree more on Egan's book. Both the topics and scope of his work is mind blowing and will leave marks.

Same goes for the Three body problem by Cixin Liu. The sheer size of both their ideas really forces you to think about the future of humanity and your part in it.

No one claimed that every system can be changed; traffic will be traffic. The same applies for the rules of politics [0].

Not sure how you get the idea that "capitalism" is a bad thing, the majority of educated people (and not just Americans) would strongly disagree; there is a reason why all credible attempts at non-market-driven growth failed, see China and Russia.

You may look at the struggle in the world and link it to the perceived epxloitation of the poor, but if you'd ask the people who e.g. work in the textile-industry in "3rd world countries" wether they'd prefer not to have any job (because that's the sole alternative within our system) or keep on working under current conditions, they would prefer to keep feeding their family.

The riches we enjoy through what you call capitalism aren't merely the number in your bank account: wealth includes the services we provide for another: being able to get a haircut at any time, etc. -- see what "being rich" without a functioning economy did to Venezuela, which was flowing in oil-money, distributed it among its people, and, in consequence, failed to keep up with the rest of the world.

The system isn't what it is because of money and greed, but because it's the best we came up with, the implications of political workings notwithstanding.


It's a cycle. We have to go through the socialism so people see how bad it gets.

People forget people aren't inherently nice when it comes to survival.

Venezuela did not distribute it's oil wealth among it's people, or if it did so, it did so highly unequally, which, arguably is a natural consequence of state socialism, as predicted by Tucker and Bastiat.
>People get prosecuted for having lied on a resume...why is a politician allowed to stay in the "system" after having just lied on facts and numbers?

Because politics is not an industry, it's the unique dynamic of ruling and power. In this case: the politician is allowed to stay in the system because he enjoys enough political support, either by the public or through other key supporters.

This seems like a good opportunity to refer to CGP Greys "the rules for rulers":

It also optimizes for leaders who will maintain a middle class.

I thought CGPGrey laid this out very well:

Nice; a sufficient high school civics curriculum in 18 minutes.
> It also optimizes for leaders who will maintain a middle class.

And yet, since the early 70s, the middle class in the US has continually eroded—with no end in sight. So much for theory.

Yes, but put that in perspective. The middle class in the US today is significantly larger and better off than in most dictatorships in the world, and there are structural reasons for that.
Exactly, they work to maintain it despite forces working to erode it.
What are the policies they use for this? Education loans? I know the tax brackets help keep well paid professionals from transitioning too easily to living off of assets, ( which is what I would call upper class). If every good doctor and lawyer graduated to idle rich, we'd have only bad ones, and a bigger wealth gap.
Most of the middle class in the US is one serious health issue away from bankruptcy - and doing far less well than in many European countries.

The real trick is keeping the middle class in the US convinced that its situation and prospects are much better than they really are.

When that trick stops working, so will democracy.

Those European countries are also democracies, though. In many cases, they are more democratic, because they don't have undemocratic features like the Senate.
The Senate is not meant to be representation by population - it is representation by geography. A different slice of the country that isn't undemocratic.

Since both houses of congress need to agree on a bill, both of those different slices need to agree to pass a law.

> The Senate is not meant to be representation by population

Yes, it is deliberately anti-democratic.

> it is representation by geography.

By political subdivisions, actually.

> A different slice of the country that isn't undemocratic.

It is absolutely and deliberately antidemocratic by initial design.

No, "anti-democratic" would be a dictatorship.

This is just a different slice of society - one that doesn't favor the political party you are in favor of, and so you're happy to miscategorize it.

...but be careful. Eroding the public perception of legitimacy in the American system won't have the impact you intent. The only realistic way to convert to a pure representation-by-population system would be a revolution - and those seldom produce any form of democracy at all. ...and usually involve quite a bit of death and destruction in the process of NOT achieving their goals.

If you've never seen it, this is a good watch:

An excellent primer on modes of Government, how they arise, and how this perpetuate is this CGP Grey video, Rules for Rulers:

Absolute power doesn't mean that you can act with impunity.

Mohammad bin Salman must retain the support of the heads of the army, secret police, and such or he will be replaced.

The Dictator's Handbook[0] discusses this topic in detail.

The Rules for Rulers[1] is an 18 minute video that summarizes some of the principles of the book.



I encourage you to watch this: The Rules for Rulers

TLDR: dictators can't do whatever they want. is a pretty well done video on the rules to be a dictator.
Aug 01, 2019 · MaxBarraclough on Norweigan oil fund
I'm reminded of a YouTube video, The Rules for Rulers, that touched on this. It makes the point that in a country with oil-based wealth, the keys to power are held by a few small elite, in contrast to a country with a 'service economy', in which case the masses are vital to the country's wealth.

[0] (Relevant segment is about 60 seconds)

Leaders do not operate in an environment where they can tell the truth and do things based on facts on the ground.[1]

Leaders have one real job, that is to reward (through jobs/money/political clout) people who help them. If they don't think telling the truth about deforestation or global warming will help their sycophants, they will tell lies.

[1] CGP Grey's Rules for Rulers:

Surely their real job is to get reelected?

In that case should they not at least project an aura of being in touch with reality.

On this issue voters either don't care, in that case they wont mind you telling the truth. Do care about deforestation but value jobs over environment, in which case you're losing their votes. Do care and value the environment over jobs, in which case they still don't want to be lied to, and the lying doesn't exactly pander to them. I cant think of many other reasonable political outlooks. So what is this? virtue signalling to some group? Is there a group so out of touch with reality that only lies sound reasonable? I don't know.

>In that case should they not at least project an aura of being in touch with reality.

Voters in democracies around the world have made it overwhelmingly clear that they don't want that.

This cynicism is pernicious. There are plenty of people, on both ends of the political spectrum, who seek public office in order to do things which they view as for the greater good. On the right it is things like criminalizing abortion. On the left it is things like preventing catastrophic climate change. They may barter votes or bend their positions in the name of incrementalism or long-term strategy, but it is the rare politician that is 100% corrupt, seeking office so as to sell their authority for personal gain. Believing this, that all politicians are purely corrupt, and arguing that others should believe it, is to facilitate corruption, not fight it.
It’s the only countervailing force against plutocratic power.

"Only?" It can itself, become a nexus of plutocratic power. The best antidote to corruption is transparency and the dispersal of power.

I’m talking about the Nordics at the top, with 70% of people in unions, followed by Germany/France/Benelux. Transparency doesn’t give create political power. Coordinating the interests of millions of workers takes organization, and a broad and politically active trade union movement is the only successful example in history of delivery widely shared prosperity.
> It's always a great place to live while the resources are being extracted.

Intuitively you would expect that. The thing that's so difficult for us to wrap our heads around about the resource curse is that intuition is completely wrong here; a sufficiently valuable natural resource can ruin a country even while it is being extracted.

The short version of the reason why is that it breaks the alignment of interest between the rulers and the people. Manufacturing industry needs a healthy and capable workforce, but as this excellent video puts it, a gold mine can run with dying slaves and still produce great treasure:

Rulers derive power from other people. Your first job is to keep the people keeping you in power happy. Fail that, and you'll be replaced by someone else.

Democracy means shifting it from a small number of people keeping you in power to all of the people. It's not easy.

CGPGray did a great video on this model: (Based on The Dictators Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith.

Here is a simplified overview.

Basically, if the foundations for a nations weath is agriculture or industry it needs widespread infrastructure. However, for centralized resources like oil, very little infrastructure is required and improving the national standard of living is both expensive and dangerous for the ruling party.

PS: South America faces many of the same issues with corruption and political instability.

>it's simply accepted as the way things are

This is also the type of comment I was talking about.

>very little infrastructure is required

And where did that infrastructure come from? Western colonialism. Where does most of the oil go? Western nations.

Even today infrastructure can be dirt roads and people extracting gold etc via hand tools.

You can find examples of the resource curse going back to the spice trade. It’s an issue of trade more than anything else. After all, a tiny kingdom only has so much use for copper or whatnot on it’s own.

Absolute power doesn't mean that you can act with impunity. Xi must retain the support of the heads of the army, secret police, and such or he will be replaced. The Dictator's Handbook[0] discusses this topic in detail. The Rules for Rulers[1] is an 18 minute video that summarizes some of the principles of the book.



edited to add video title to second link

Julius told Augustus to pay the soldiers well and have contempt for the rest.
Winnie the Pooh changed all sorts of things for the worse that his predecessor had made progress on. He's an idiot. He should be replaced by someone more wise.
Xi seems to be pretty smart though, but his ideals don't align with ours
Progress on what?

It'd be better for who if they just apologized and stopped violating human rights? The people in charge?

People are self-interested.

These are the same authors who then wrote the Dictator's handbook:

CPG Grey has a summary of the book:

thank you
That video haunts me. Well worth a watch
I've read 1984. I dont know why you emphasize promise as I was quoting things that have been DONE.

I guess what I wanted to say to you is I feel this discussion will not be able to produce actionable or make ourselves more knowledgable on the matter.

As I said more pressure from western countries probably will not make China better. Chinese citizens hate the government to some degree, but if you think they are closer to western ideologies, value your version of human rights and freedom more than what current Chinese government provides, you probably need a reality check.

Since you have communication channels with other Chinese, plz go ask them whether they consider what's going on in Xinjiang is a big issue worth protesting for. Ask them if they would like to be provided better human right standards from western country governments on Chinese soil.

Plz watch this if you haven't

I've read those experiments. But so what? They are not physical laws. I dont like dictatorship. But say if China becomes a democracy today, how do you prevent China becomes next Russia (electing Putin), or next Turkey? or next Philippine? or next Brazil?

Democracy cannot solve every social problems. I dont think most Chinese citizens have the appetit to swallow your approach toward governing although I dont have any better suggestions. Maybe the helplessness from me feels like I'm defending current Chinese government but I'm not. I'm just not good enough on social science to provide a better solution. If there's one I'd like it gone faster than you.

Also: 1. Isn't it in 1984 the bad guys (Oceania) was winning on conquering the world? So 1984 itself doesn't really provide any solution to the problem.

2. I recommend you read the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. The main relevant ideas: a. The evolution/progression of human kind doesn't necessarily have to benefit individuals. (this kinda circled back to 1) b. Democracy and liberal values are only hold dearly by a fraction of human beings during a small fraction of human history. There's probably not enough proof that those values are indispensable to human progress in all situations. It's just during this period of time the super powers of the world happen to possess them.

I guess so, I'm not arguing against that.

Furthermore, I'd encourage spectramax or anyone this video if not seen: (Basically under a dictatorship you still need to represent the citizens in some degree.)

At this point I don't remember what I'm arguing and again I'm not an expert in social science who can contribute to a conversation on solving China's problem or the issue reported by NYT. I hope HN remains as a place where I can always see insights from people who truly understand the domain and can give constructive comments.

Power must always be exercised to be retained, yes. But I doubt power must be publicly exercised in order to remain viable. And rulers never rule, they hold court, and they must retain the favor of the court to be viable. See "Rules for Rulers":

I believe one example of this was how Napoleon III lost the favor of Alexis de Tocqueville, and hence was toppled as Emperor of France:

That is by far the best book I’ve read about politics. It starts with a simple premise and is able to explain a lot. This video gives the short version -
Feb 22, 2019 · jjoonathan on Overpaid CEOs 2019
Agreed. The fact that pay is often still astronomical in the case of the worst possible outcomes strongly suggests that leverage is just an excuse. I'm pretty sure that the real answer is that CEO pay is just the Rules for Rulers [1], capitalism style.

[1] Rules for Rulers:

With few exceptions, all societies have Pareto distributions. All societies (of any decent size) are also subject to unrest from relative inequality. All successful societies also managed to engage in some form of distribution of power and some form of redistribution of wealth.

Distribution of power:

Perception of relative wealth:

The redistribution of wealth can only be conducted voluntarily or at least somewhat voluntarily, without inviting inter-group conflict.

I worry that greed is too baked in, and those that have would rather let the world burn before they give the current system up.

Greed is baked in. Sorry, but that's just how people work in groups larger than about 450. However, far seeing elites can preserve the current order by creating works to uplift the common man and create community spaces of pride and joy. [1] This is also borne out in the historical record, as are the consequences when the elites do too little or imprudently do too much.

[1] -- I would say that we in the US have forgotten how to create public spaces of worth, and the trend is to take the activities of the common person and stratify them by class. This is a very bad trend, which speaks against the long term viability of our society.

Regarding activity in the US... Do you think it's because we have no cultural knowledge/history of peasants vs the aristocracy? I find that Americans are very confused when discussing class issues and any discussion usually devolves into racism or simple consumerist preferences.
America is a anti-culture society(Americans have little culture that is shared among the absolute majority). At best there are 7-10 major cultural regions in USA. Who's values change as much as you going through Europe... It also broadly matches European cultural differences.

So it's hardly surprising that Americans can't define certain things, to span the whole country. It's an ongoing project of Enlightenment, that I'd like to succeed.

Regarding activity in the US... Do you think it's because we have no cultural knowledge/history of peasants vs the aristocracy?

We very much have had class divisions right from the get-go. Class distinctions were codified into voting rights!

I find that Americans are very confused when discussing class issues and any discussion usually devolves into racism or simple consumerist preferences.

1) There is a faction in US society which is actually invested in the sabotage of public discourse. Devolving discussions into terms which have historically caused hate and violence is a very effective tool for doing this. So long as American society has public discourse and the norms and institutions that make us free, US society is strong and unassailable. There is a faction that wants to roll the dice and ruin the qualities and practices which make society great, in order to see if they come out on top.

2) A lot of culture has always expressed itself in material culture preferences. We're just a lot more up-front about it today, and so much more of our culture is wound up in it.

* Factfulness and Thinking Fast And Slow. The latter helped me internalise that my thinking, like most humans, is biased. Even being aware of those biases doesn’t always help. We need to go above and beyond to overcome our biases. Factfulness goes into detail about what those biases are and how they lead to a distorted world view. Rather than taking the easy way out by blaming journalists/politicians/rich people, he turns the focus onto us and our biases and speaks about how to look at the world in an objective fact based manner.

* The Dictator’s Handbook. One simple axiom - leaders do what is necessary to stay in power. Using that idea they explain the basis of all political systems, whether autocracy or democracy or somewhere in between. I didn’t really understand politics before I read this. CGPGrey has a video where he summarises the book. [1]

* (Only for Indians) India After Gandhi. You can’t really understand your country if you don’t know it’s history. History stopped in 1947 according to our history books, and most people are blissfully unaware of what came after. They don’t know how close India came to losing democracy or how easily it could happen again. They don’t understand the dangers of promoting one language at the expense of others because they don’t know that it’s been tried before. Every Indian needs to know so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past over and over.

[1] -

India After Gandhi is truly a powerful book, and you're right in saying that it is our duty as an Indian to educate ourselves about post-1947 happenings. My only issue with the book, though only slightly, was the fast that Guha was a bit too soft on Nehru. There were many flaws/bad decisions (and good decisions too indeed) taken by Nehru which, I think, the book downplayed.

Nevertheless, Guha is truly an amazing historian and all of his books deserve to be read!

I read the first five or so chapters of Factfulness based on this recommendation, and do not recommend that book. Here is my review (also posted to Goodreads at

The book was recommended to me as being mainly about bias, with the state of the world as examples, but this was wrong – the book is mainly about the state of the world, and it gives a few basic biases I already knew about as examples. The state of humanity all over the globe is not something I care about as much – I can’t personally affect it and it won’t affect my personal life – and the book never explicitly justified its assumption that it is important for people to know.

I did appreciate one thing: the book’s description of exactly what system is supposed to replace the “developing”/“developed” dichotomy. I was told as a child that it was obsolete, but never what was supposed to replace it. The book proposes categorizing countries within a distribution of four income levels in which most countries fall in level three. The author never justified his choice of four levels, nor his choice of boundaries between the levels, but I am willing to believe based on the graphs that at least this model is more useful than the older two-level dichotomy.

However, the rest of the book was pretty boring. I didn’t fall in the category of “people who think the world is getting worse” that the introduction assumed I fell into, so the next few chapters that kept insisting that the world was getting better were redundant and boring for me. The other chapters all seem the same and I don’t think I’ll learn anything useful from them.

I can guess that Bill Gates recommended this book because it is written for people like him – rich philanthropists who are wondering how best to use their power to make a difference in the world. Most people do not fall in this category.

>>They don’t know how close India came to losing democracy or how easily it could happen again.

Would it have been a bad thing? Well, China is doing swimmingly well. And please don't give the oh-India-is-very-diverse argument. Those who claim China is not diverse, doesn't know China.

Democracy was not something that originated out of India. It got shoved upon and lapped up by the very white-washed freedom-fighting leadership back in the day. No other alternative has/was ever been considered ["A political system with Indian characteristics"]. Also, for a country with a very high illiteracy rate, I never figured out how democracy actually works.

>>They don’t understand the dangers of promoting one language at the expense of others because they don’t know that it’s been tried before.

So let's just promote English and ensure there will always be animosity and division amongst the intellectuals (since by definition, they'd already know English) and the rest who only speak a "regional vernacular". The thing that has shocked me most on my interactions with the Indian English-speaking (elite) is on how unoriginal they are. I could have well been speaking with a Brooklyn hipster and wouldn't have been able to tell the difference (other than the appearance and context). Well with none of their "regional vernaculars" being developed and growing up on just a diet of American and British books and (liberal) ideas, can't quite blame them.

ps: I do a lot of business travel to India. Let's just put it that I have a love-hate affair with the country.

I was just thinking about our government in India earlier today and how the illiterate population play a role in sustaining a bad functioning government. My concern was mostly with the environment and how those in power seem to be doing nothing to fix what needs to be done urgently. I do not know how to explain the craze that the common people have for politics, but it is very active here. They get riled up very easily and this has let people who have the ability to trigger the thoughts of the masses into power. Very often, those who get into power do not join politics to bring change but only because they see how easy it is to be corrupt.

On the flip side, I think most of the modern generation has a better understanding of what needs to be done and where our priorities should be but it's gonna be a long time before those in power go away for good. But it might be too late by then, and I'm afraid we'll be stuck in this cycle.

Didn’t know that the Rules for Rulers video was from a book.
I would also recommend The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. It's an awesome book.
What would you recommend for a general history of India especially around British invasion? School textbooks are obviously biased.
I've only read a couple of history books about India, one by William Dalrymple and the other by Ramachandra Guha. I'd highly recommend both of them. In case you want to know about the last decades of the freedom struggle, Gandhi After India is probably what you're looking for.
About thinking Fast and Slow, people might want to know that the author has pretty much admitted to major flaws in his research.

While his admission concerns mostly the theory of priming, the problem is not specific but a methodological error. In my view all his research should be looked at with suspicion and with a view to have his experiments replicated independently sooner rather than later. This has been a problem throughout social psychology and other branches of science, so nothing specific to Kahneman, he's just the best known. Which brings up the next thought, which is I always look at information from the epistemic point of view: where does this knowledge come from: rational thought, experiment, experience, faith? I just notice, without judgement, how eager some of the posters here are to accept a theory or a philosophy even when it has already been debunked, or the evidence is flimsy, or maybe it's formulated in ways that are not even "debunkable". And there is a pragmatic view that if it feels right and it helps, why not.

All of the elites are player and puppet for the elites. The sooner people realize that the better off they'll be.

I first heard this from Etta James, but it's Bob Dylan that wrote it:

I've read the book The Dictators Handbook (watch the CGP Grey video Rules for Rulers[1] for a good summary) and I can imagine a number of really clear and compelling Job Stories for this technology:

* As a ruler facing large-scale protests, I want to clear the crowds of people from the streets without deploying soldiers who might choose to actually side with the protestors.

* As a ruler who is afraid of a coup, I want to reduce the personnel-management costs of maintaining my military so that I can reduce the number of officers needed to maintain the same level of force lethality. This will let me purge my officer corps of possibly-disloyal members and lavish rewards on those who remain.

* As a ruler from an ethnic/religious minority, I want to restrict membership in the military to that minority without reducing its lethality so that I can prevent members of the majority from having trained members who could seize power or resist marginalization.

Technological advances like quinine and the Madsen and Maxim Gun allowed fewer than 1,000 Europeans[2] under Belgian King Leopold to spread the benefits[3] of civilization to The Congo, an area more than 3 times the size of Texas. I am excited to see the world that these new advances will usher in.



[3] (although yes, also

As a bonus, developing-world tyrants usually have poor logistical and maintenance capabilities, so PMCs and defense contractors have the option of long-tail contracts for supply, maintenance, and upgrades as well, reducing the risk of regime elements going rogue with the murderbot army. It’s really a win-win for murderous ethnonationalist authoritarianism and unfettered global capitalism!
Wont the risk for officer rebellion increase with decreased size of the chore?

Even so, it's probably more likely that some murder bot engineers rebell against the ruler than thousands of soldiers and officers who have a harder time organizing than a smaller group.

Obviously, this apply for 'evil' rebells vs 'good' governments too.

I would not like to have a single point of failure murder bot army as garrisons.

I'd also like to recommend CGP Grey's Rules for Rulers ( which is based on The Dictator's Handbook. I really should add that to my library though...
Developing the technology to automatically police an area seems like a dramatically bad idea. It would make it far easier for a wealthy elite to control territory without the accountability of needing to prevent their police/soldiers from joining the side of protestors.

I’d rather live in a world where the rulers need the begrudging consent of a large number of people, for the reasons explained in The Dictator’s Handbook or in this CGP Grey video

I am not suggesting the autonomous AI robot version more like approach stopped vehicle and take transmit info remotely to the officer at a safe distance.
Less bloody perhaps by use of less kinetic weapons directly against people, but the scary part of war is famine for the populace. Just look at Yemen, I heard 100,000 died in the past few years there, basically just because Saudi Arabia has them under siege in their proxy war with Iran. The biggest killer in Russia in WWII was famine. When the supply chain or a weak link in our technology breaks (or is broken) death tolls rise scarily fast.

also the point of war is simply about power, or to make the other nation/state/population submit to your demands, and the actions of leaders and their path towards war are not always transparent or easy to spot from a rational observers point of view. I saw this the other day (actually came across it here on HN) and really enjoyed the perspective it puts on power and what people incentives drive those that have it:

^ yep, the above point regarding famine [and civilian suffering in general] being the biggest weapon of war is impossible to over-emphasize. Wars are generally won by breaking the will of the people against whom one is waging war, and that is done by reducing the population to a state of utter misery.
>also the point of war is simply about power, or to make the other nation/state/population submit to your demands

A point of war is a complete destruction of enemy country, its population, culture, economy, grinding it to all to dust. Enemy being crushed, hunted to the last man, turned into animal by fear. Making enemy fear you more than death — this is the point of war.

You think you know a thing about war? Western people, thinking of war as a ritual sabre rattling with some symbolic bloodshed just to motivate the enemy to accept talks on their terms, know nothing about war.

If Western powers would enter a war with that idea in heads of their leaders, I am afraid to image what the outcome will be. The West is too used to think of wars as wars of politicians. Genghis khan was not a politician, and the next man to follow his steps wouldn't be either.

Systemic corruption makes the rule of law "difficult" to enforce. And by difficult I mean this is a feature not a bug for the huge interconnected web of power that actually runs the country.

PS: The fact China is not a democracy which has some unpleasant results:

Thanks for the video. It's very educational.
The other side is true as well. The Boss of Bosses can get a call from Trump and that factory owner is arrested in 15 minutes.
Pretty sure even "democratic" countries has so much difficulty with corruption. Then there is the Federal Reserve..

My true definition of democracy is direct democracy. Once you start giving power to a representative then you stop being democratic. And that includes power to survive, eat, have shelter, have vacation, have time to study and pursue creative things.

But unless we can instantly communicate like the Protoss can then no, we can't achieve 'rule by the people'. However, it's not simply a choice of Direct Democracy, 3-branch system, 1-party system. We can have system where there is way less concentrated power (again, emphasis on power including many things like education in critical thinking).

Having said that. Yes China is not a democracy. Nor any other country. It is a question of how power (again, my emphasis) is concentrated and the potential of corruption.

You might be interested in the idea of a delegative democracy:

In theory it has the advantages of direct democracy, without requiring telepathy. Of course, that's not necessarily to say that it would work well, but it's an interesting concept at least.

In the United States, the Founding Fathers debated the idea of direct democracy at length and rejected it. Their reasons included preserving state sovereignty/local governance, and protecting rural minorities. Here's an article by George Friedman at Stratfor which serves as an introduction to the discussion:

The only thing which can reliably be said about modern debate on how to structure a good representative government, is that the participants are rarely informed about the 500 years of debate on the subject that occurred before they were born

I keep being amazed how Americans treat anything said or done by the Founding Fathers (with two capital Fs even) as holy scripture.

They were just some guys drafting a law, get over it. People draft laws all the time.

China is a democracy.

Funny thing is, people say one party system is not a democracy. What about USA's two party system? Both of them have representatives elected by people (baring the violence).

But in both, people can't realistically get a new party in government, let alone run the country. Yet new parties get elected in other parts of the world, even if they don't run the government as a majority.

The constitution defines China as "a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants" [1]. It may be "democratic" in the sense that elections are held, but it's not a democracy in the modern sense.


Intersting, as per your link, the dictatorship is for the people. Seems similar to commander in chief role but without congress?

What is democracy in a modern sense?

Our parties change around every half century or so. The US has gone through several rearrangements of parties.

We're arguably currently on the sixth one.

That's not a fair comparsion as the current Chinese party has only been in power 'democratically' since 1949.

That said, my above point is about non ruling party representatives. In Europe, there tends to be more than 5 different parties, showing plenty of voter choice is possible.

All it takes is one party member (out of 80M) lodging a complaint with the central committee.
Yes because they read all missives personally. And no one ever interferes with those missives or those who send them. And no one ever lies in them for personal gain or joy in chaos.

Quick, do a good job and renovate everything, hide or move anything annoying or embarrassing while the boss is here is part of Chinese management everywhere from Xi Jinping on down. Supervision and management are hard, especially when your subordinates are constantly shading the truth and covering things up.

Just like USA would be a very different place if 300M people had a vote that mattered, China would be a very different place if 80M people had a complaint mechanism that mattered. We'll never hear of the city clerk who complains about the excesses of the latest giant project imposed upon local citizens. There are probably hundreds of those people, and they have all been taken care of. (Most of them in standard bureaucratic politicking fashion: "she said this terrible thing about Xi" "there is corruption in his office" etc. Kicking down is a great way to move up, when an official a couple rungs up approved the project and wants the complaints to go away.)
More than guns (or in addition to guns), it is important that people know how their government works and make their support indispensable if a ruler wants to stay in power. In other words, increase the number of "keys" like this YouTuber explains

What I struggle with is how does one make the leap from being a democracy to being a democracy which protects the rights of minorities? This doesn't have to be a gender or race thing. For example, here in the US we clearly don't do enough to protect incarcerated people from {sexual, physical, mental} abuse (by staff or by other inmates).

> What I struggle with is how does one make the leap from being a democracy to being a democracy which protects the rights of minorities?

The Federalist Papers deal with both the Tyranny of the Majority, as well as the Tyranny of the Minority.

The US is a Constitutional Republic... why everyone continues to conflate this with democracy I do not understand. The states election process does not define the Federal govt.

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.


" A constitutional republic is a form of representative democracy. "

Read this over and over until you believe you can simply change the meaning of words

I've found that people who attempt to make this argument have an agenda. Here is an article that references several founders using both terms.

The difference I see.

All democratic governments today allow decisions to be made even over the dissent of a minority of voters.

Whereas the (Republic) Constitution and the Bill of Rights protect (or are supposed to protect) the individual rights.

The individual being the smallest minority.

This is the difference I see. It is a small difference with a huge impact.

John Locke

[Civic power] can have no right except as this is derived from the individual right of each man to protect himself and his property. The legislative and executive power used by government to protect property is nothing except the natural power of each man resigned into the hands of the community…and it is justified merely because it is a better way of protecting natural right than the self-help to which each man is naturally entitled.[1]:532

Because a democracy and a republic are not mutually exclusive, unless you are talking about direct democracy specifically.

China is a republic but not a democracy. Canada is a democracy and not a republic.

A constitutional republic is a form of representative democracy. You do not understand because you misunderstand.
> A constitutional republic is a form of representative democracy.

This is not generally true in the abstract, but the specific form of most Constitutional republics, including the US, is basically representative democracy, though sometimes (as in the US) with skewed voting power, and democratic values (coupled with fear of the volatility and excesses of direct or unconstrained democracy) was fairly central to the founding ideology of the United States.

No part of the US federal government is representative at this point. The Senate isn't by design, the house isn't because it's been capped, the presidency isn't by design.
A constitutional republic is where the people delegate certain powers, enumerated in a constitution, to the government. The Constitution of the United States defines three branches of government, the Legislative, Judicial and Executive. Ideally each branch serves to check the unrestrained power of the other branches (or two branches check the unrestrained power of the third.) That's what makes the revelations about mass logging of emails by the NSA, part of the Executive branch, so important.
That was part of the idea of the Constitution; the founding fathers knew that uninhibited democracies were a bad idea (even the Greeks experienced some bad things with mob rule) and specifically tried to create a democratic republic restrained by a written set of rules protecting citizens from arbitrary exercise of power by a majority to avoid some of the worst. They lived through quite a few things we are seeing now, but I think a large part of preventing it depends squarely on culture. Having a culture that fundamentally believes in justice and equality will stave off tyranny and oppression, but it doesn't matter what laws you have in a society that doesn't value those. When I took Chinese philosophy there was a philosopher (can't remember which one) who basically said that it is good men who make the laws, but laws without good men will not be enforced.
> specifically tried to create a democratic republic restrained by a written set of rules protecting citizens from arbitrary exercise of power by a majority to avoid some of the worst

They tried to create one with no power for anyone but white male landowners and with provisions that made changing that extremely difficult.

Oct 22, 2018 · seer on Who Are My Investors?
“stomp” is a bit exaggerated... Democracies are usually more economically efficient, whinch in the long run means more productive power for tech progress or weapons/munitions manufacture. But the catch is “the long run” there is some history of tribal/ dictatorial states distabalizing democracies and “winning” if they do it quickly and ferociously enough. Or even just ferociously.

A very good source of info about a lot of the powers and incentives in something like this is the “rules for rules” youtube video from cgp grey

I feel like this comment thread needs a link to CGP Grey's excellent Rules for Rulers video, too:

I’ve read thd book this is based on—its a good book and pessimistically presents what is actually a quite optimistic model of power.
> and the politicians buy it even though it's very unlikely to be true.

For who are this measures passed? Interesting explanation:

Negative? It's how the world works.

Those in resource-driven countries enjoy very little comfort, because you don't need very comfortable/educated people to extract resources.

Our economies are more based on knowledge, so we get better lives.

CGPGrey's rules for rulers is a very good outline of this and other related topics:

Just because it’s true doesn’t make it not “negative” — even pessimists are often over-optimistic for project planning, for example, despite being closest to reality.

Also, this article shows that people can be irrational about the economically optimal level of comfort.

CGP makes a similar point with the valley of revolution, between impoverished and wealthy nations, and why it’s hard to get from poor to rich even though it’s clearly an improvement.

Your comment reminds me of Rules for Rulers by CGP Grey. Great video and relevant to this discussion:

If you like that video Why Nations Fail is basically 100x deeper explanation through examples of the last 12,000 years of history.
Are you referring to:

* James Robinson's 18m TED Talk [1]

* Daron Acemoglu's 90m lecture [2]

* Daron and James's 550 page book [3]




I loved Sapiens. It has a couple of ideas that help explain so much of our world - really powerful ideas. Once you know them they seem so obvious and you feel like you should have thought of that yourself. For example, (spoilers for human history ahead), our civilations are based on agriculture and very few hunter gatherers remain. But that doesn't mean that people consciously chose one over the other. It's just that for various reasons, agriculture is a more "viral" idea that spread more efficiently than the alternative. Ditto with monotheistic vs polytheistic religions.

Homo Deus... less so. It rehashes a lot of Sapiens and I found it a bit of a drag. The introduction is worth reading though. He recounts all the progress we've made as a species, which would surprise people who think our world is growing worse by the day.

Chasing the Scream was amazing. Nothing more to be said.

The book I learned the most from was probably The Dictator's Handbook. Again, a very simple idea - how can we predict a politician/leader's behaviour based on a simple assumption - they will try their best to stay employed. The authors manage to explain almost all of how politics works based on this one single idea. If you're one of those people who likes to try-before-they-buy, here's a trailer of the book -

The Dictator's Handbook is also on my reading list and I really enjoyed the Kindle sample. In fact, I got to know about the book from a HN recommendation.

It's impressive how so much clearly one may see the world by relearning well-known concepts using one's intuition, which is how the authors happened upon the simple but powerful idea behind what really drives political behavior.

It makes perfect sense if you assume the words and the actions are mere advertising for votes rather than anything intended to be consistent.

Technically-minded people are used to systems that are at some level logically consistent. A common misconception is that the same rules apply to politics and social or political power[1]. Laws and politics are not logical, internally consistent systems by design. Of course laws are written ambiguously; the uncertainty about the scope of a law is a feature.

Laws that might apply to a very broad set of behaviors and situations can be selectively enforced. If you are uncertain if you activities became illegal, you are incentivized to err on the safe side and self-censor.


Adapted by CGP Grey for people who don't read:

The Rules for Rulers

Why is it hard to do sane policy?

Because if you listen to the key powers, those key powers act not in the interest of the public but in their own instead. The problem isn't going to get better, as history already shows.

I wonder how it would even theoretically be possible to balance such gravely contrasting needs/wants by whatever definition of representation without ending up at Douglas Adams' quote about summarizing this problem.

The ship has really already sailed on longform communication, perhaps out of laziness or cost/benefit.

Really? I see a flourishing of detailed video content, much of which is interesting and fairly information dense.


Civilizations at the End of Time: Black Hole Farming

CGP Grey. Rules for Rulers

Granted, that these are really pointers to other sources, in many cases text sources.

Cost/Benefit is a big factor! Remember: The street finds its own uses for things.

The only reason powerful people are able to hoard power, and stay in power, is because so many other people allow this and willingly grant them this power.

Here's the real truth of that: We don't let people get away with it for long. Point-like aggregations of power aren't easily workable. Even absolute totalitarians need help from factions and need to keep their minions well paid. Such rulers can't buy loyalty, and so depend on blood relatives for that as well, which means they are very constrained in this precious resource. It's only the wide dispersion of power that is workable and stable, long term.

The wider the dispersion, the better off the common person and society.

Yup, that’s how it is. CGP Grey has a good video on that, “The Rules For Rulers”:
CGP Grey explains how dictators work:

When the collaboration of the citizens is not required to generate wealth, dictators emerge. For Venezuela, it's oil.

We are also seeing how technology is generating enough wealth and power to allow tech companies to compete against society. Today, it's tracking people for advertising purposes, tomorrow it could be a mass surveillance at the scale of what is emerging in China.

That's a big stretch to go from advertising related tracking to the great firewall of China.
No. It's really not. The technical puzzle pieces are all there and well understood. Anyone who can amass the political power could get it done. Done fast or done slowly might require differing amounts of power.
Ad tracking technology is in no way related to wide spread blocking of internet content. Those are completely separate. To filter the internet you don't need to know the browsing or shopping habits of a single individual.

I fail to see the connection at all.

To monitor the internet, you do.
You can effectively achieve something indifferent from censorship just by ranking, either search results, feed items or what have you.
Then you also need to block services, that do better ranking.
This is also part of why there are only two oil-rich liberal democracies, and a contributing factor to the resource curse:

(Norway and Canada.)

Also USA, Brazil, Mexico, the UK, Colombia, Ecuador... there are more, but it depends on what you mean by "oil-rich". Ecuador, for example, produces less oil than Norway, but its oil production is a higher percentage of their GDP.
I define "oil-rich" in such a way that oil revenue is the dominant part of the economy. This would exclude the US and UK, for instance. (In fact, not even Canada might qualify by this metric.)

Of course, this is almost tautological, since any liberal democracy worth its salt ends up with an economy that does a lot more than simple resource extraction.

I would have to research the other Western Hemisphere examples you mention, though with the levels of corruption and often outright civil war in many of them, I would question whether they qualify as "liberal democracies" (or perhaps I should add the qualifier, "stable").

CGP Grey did a video about political power:

Short answer: your idea probably won't last long.

> People with power and wealth could still be toppled when you exposed them to the truth. How in the fuck does that even come close to happening today?

I have doubts that this happened regularly in the past, usually wealthy/powerful were allowed to be toppled by their enemies. I don't know the details of how Weinstein got toppled after so many years of being protected, but my gut says that the people who were protecting him no longer felt like it was worth it to continue. In revolutions, it's not the people that overthrow the dictator, it's the court/army which allow the people to overthrow the dictator, in order for them to install a new dictator[0].

> How do you overcome marketing that is engineered to exploit the psychological vulnerabilities you are not even aware of?

Become more aware of your vulnerabilities so as to be aware of when you're being exploited. I recommend mindfulness and then making note of when you're being triggered in either a positive or negative way. If you know the enemy and yourself, you need not fear the result of a thousand battles[1].

> How do we patch our society and governing systems from being pwned?

As these systems become more complex it requires more energy and complexity to maintain the systems, this additional complexity creates a larger attack surface and more internal fragility. Solving these problems requires more energy and complexity, exacerbating the problem and delivering diminishing returns on additional complexity. Systems should to be designed to collapse in a way that minimizes losses of knowledge (especially of why they collapsed) and with mechanisms to recover quickly using the accumulated knowledge to build more robustness into the new system, this would be an anti-fragile system. Centralized, too big to fail, institutions (Facebook, et al) are a major component of fragility in our current systems[2][3][4].

I think you can avoid the marketers and advertisers by learning how they operate, nobody gives away shit for free, so anybody that claims that is either a marketer/advertiser trying to lure you into a bait/switch or is using you as the product (TANSTAAFL). Be flexible and avoid lock-in to any single service/company, always be ready to drop a service when they start acting against your interests or the interests of society as a whole.

[0] CGP Grey, Rules for Rulers -

[1] Sun Tzu, Art of War -

[2] Joseph Tainter, Collapse of Complex Societies -

[3] Nassim Taleb, Antifragile -

[4] JP Crutchfield, The Hidden Fragility of Complex Systems -

I feel that Jared Diamond's book Collapse belongs on your list of references
Amazingly, I haven't yet read any of Diamond's work, though I think I have this on my bookcase.

I know that Tainter has criticized him some for cherry picking in order to support his presuppositions, specifically regarding his Easter Island ideas. I think he talks about it a little bit on this Omega Tau podcast:

It's on my personal list still though, get around to it eventually.

I like his methodology, mainly because of a couple reasons. 1) We don't have that many civilization level societies to study in history, and 2) no society specifically sets out to implode, in fact there is tremendous benefit in not doing so. So even if we only had one collapse to study, we probably should do so and learn as much as we can from it, careful not to put too much value in the 'this time it's different' thing for our own prospects.
I think the age of ai and robots will change this. Revolutions happened when the army out police swapped sides, but computers don't really do that.
True, but AI/robots are also complex systems which depend on additional complex systems and have many internal fragilities and external attack surfaces that can be exploited.

The class that controls the robots/AI become the de facto enforcement class, a la the army/police/praetorian guard.

If you say that the AI won't be controlled, then I don't have anything left to say on this subject because it's a rabbit hole I've been down too often lately.

I appreicate your thorough response and giving me all these resources to dig through.

I think that in the past you had to be a very intelligent machiavellian-type dude to stay in power and it was a constant struggle. You probably had to be a very good at reading people and understanding their psyche. But there are only so many such guys and they can only manipulate so many people.

I think technology has given people with power and money the ability to automate influence on a much larger scale for cheap. Not that technology is bad. Technology makes hard problems easier. It can make all those things that a smart person had to constantly work on repeatable and consistent. When i think of data mining the last thing on my mind is product ads. I think gerrymandering. I tip my hat to the evil genius that figured out how to draw districts like that. I bet you could get most of that data from people's facebook. Even without that though, using other data you could get. And even if you dont have any digital data available, you can probably be classified based on a few facts. And......your vote is null now.

What I struggle with is the fact that now influence is global and widespread and I can't for the life of me figure out how that gets reigned in. It's kinda mindblowing.

Yeah, technology is basically a lever that increasingly grants larger power multipliers to those with access.

When high leverage technology is more accessible then it becomes a leveler for the playing field. When it's available only to those who already hold power, then it tips things drastically in whatever direction they wish and typically makes things drastically more uneven (though the Gates Foundation and others do apply their power/tech toward leveling sometimes).

I think this is one of the effects that makes our current society more fragile... bad actors (big and small) can create enormous impacts with minimal resource, and because of the nature of the Second Law, it's far easier to destroy than it is to create.

Just look at this data breach, it took enormous effort (relatively) to create a platform to identify, gather and organize all this personal data, yet look at how easily it slipped into the hands of bad actors. Bad press for FB, less trust in social networks, and who else has access to this data set? A small team who also managed to hack something like 23AndMe or another useful dataset with additional information will be able to create an even more powerful dataset with a laptop and some python scripts. Combine that with more advanced CRISPR technology and I don't even know could be possible, it's the stuff of sci-fi thrillers though.

You're absolutely right to be concerned, but I don't think this can be reigned in. The UN isn't in any position to regulate the global network, and the modern economy/society can't afford to create walled national networks, plus policing them would just be another layer of complexity.

I think the best we can do is get ready. All of this complexity will become a drag on economic growth (which requires constant gains to maintain itself, especially in the face of massive deficit spending), which will continue to lead to societal unrest and political instability... AI and robots will exacerbate the complexity and fragility more than they alleviate it and climate change, with the more volatile weather system, will create increasing opportunities for black swans to create enormous set backs.

It's unfortunate, but Russia and China are going to be in a much better position to take advantage of the increasing uncertainty and chaos than the US and EU (dictators are shitty, but much more efficient in uncertain times). I recommend moving to Australia or New Zealand if you're not looking to get caught up.

I like the lever analogy a lot. Mainly because it is scientifically accurate, the longer a lever the less force is required. Archimedes saw the value is this tool in his quote 'Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the Earth with it'.

> though the Gates Foundation and others do apply their power/tech toward leveling sometimes can you elaborate on this some more?

I like science and technology as much as the next guy and I didn't think I'd say this, but IMO it's contributing to a continually decreasing quality of life. A part of me gets excited with new gadgets, like smartTV and Alexa, and another part of me cringes at it. I kinda get where Ted Kaczynski was coming from when he turned against technology and industry.

> I recommend moving to Australia or New Zealand if you're not looking to get caught up. Why there?

The Gates Foundation has helped to eradicate polio and has worked on other projects to help alleviate the suffering of those in extreme poverty. Same with the Carter Foundation and guinea worms.

> I like science and technology as much as the next guy and I didn't think I'd say this, but IMO it's contributing to a continually decreasing quality of life.

I get the sentiment, my gut says the same, but in terms of actual progress we're still doing pretty well. I'm in the middle of Pinker's Enlightenment Now and it's hard to argue with his data... however, I do believe he is missing some other effects regarding fragility and complexity that he hasn't addressed (yet).

Every time my phone rings and it's a robot on the other end, pretending to be a human, my world darkens and I also have a brush with Kacynski level thoughts, though.

Australia and New Zealand are just a nice mix of being geographically positioned away from the big flash points of global conflict and having democratically elected governments. NZ also learned a lot about robustness and preparedness from their recent earthquakes.

In a society where politicians rely on a broad coalition of supporters in order to stay in power, I think it is an error to place all of the blame for misleadership on those same politicians. I think you have to first look at what incentives those politicians operate under and then look at which ones swim with or against those incentives.

As CGP Grey says, Take the throne to act, and the throne acts upon you.

There is plenty of corruption going around. His 'Rooting out corruption' is simply rephrasing moving my cronies into power. People loyal to the last administration and not yours get removed, useful people loyal to the current administration stay. Corruption is simply the proxy cause as effectively everyone is guilty so anyone can be removed.

PS: You see this everywhere from China, Russia, India, on one end and Japan and Europe on the other. Even local governments and homeowners associations like to review old contracts as the people in power shift.

There might be an interesring underlying problem here which you are trying to solve, but not addressing explicitly. Perhaps humanity is, for the first time, entering a period where it is possible for corruption to go un-checked. If you look at history, go back a bit and it could be described as just groups of people teaming up to kill each other. Over history, the trend was generally towards larger groups. Now the group is nearly as large as possible (global), and there's no threat to the group. So the interesting problem is that those with power over the group now have no incentive to keep the group's evolutionary fitness level high--maybe their incentive is even to decrease the group's fitness? Looking at examples in the article and in the comments, it's hard to believe this is never the case. We know the War on Poverty, Drug War, War on Terror, and other efforts have intentionally been designed to not solve the problems they were tasked with solving (poverty, drug use, and terror have not measurably dropped due to those efforts, despite trillions spent).

So when you say it "should be" you are advocating perhaps a difficult path for humanity. I personally would like to see humanity try to go down that path of improving our evolutionary fitness over our environment, but maybe to do that we need to recognize this inconvenient truth. I don't see how these things you mention change, otherwise.

Youtuber CGP Grey has a related video about this reality of leadership:

There's a really good video about this.
It's cool how people think CGP Grey is a scholar on so many topics just because he sounds calm and confident when he talks. It's like a stick figure hypno toad.
> people think CGP Grey is a scholar on so many topics just because he sounds calm and confident

His "Rules for Rulers" video is an excellent summary of The Dictator's Handbook [1], itself a summary of well-regarded selectorate theory [2]. I have yet to watch a CPG Grey video which does not honestly separate fact from opinion, and ensure the former is well sourced.

His delivery is excellent. But that, alone, is not substitute for well-written and -researched material.



Some of his videos are better than others. But his videos are as slanted towards his view as anything else. What facts you present and how you present them is both a conscious and unconscious result of your own worldview (some things you will see as relevant or irrelevant, and some things you won't even be aware of because of who you are and what you've read, etc.)

But regardless, replying to someone with "Hey watch this 40 minute CGP Grey video which explains why you're wrong." is both hilarious and insulting on multiple levels.

OK, how about: hey, read The Dictator's Handbook which explains why you're wrong. It's $12, 354 pages long, and not the least bit insulting.
> is both hilarious and insulting on multiple levels

CPG Grey's summaries are just that, summaries. They miss nuance by design. In many cases nuance isn't necessary. If someone is arguing over what is on what continent, CPG Grey's "What Are Continents?" video [1] is an acceptable response. It's just a summary. But even the summary adequately shows the baselessness of the question.

TL; DR CPG Grey's videos are, on average, of better quality than many newspapers, blogs and other secondary sources. It's perfectly fine to reference them.


It isn't stupidity or propaganda creating a misinformed understanding; Pai actions clearly demonstrate he has a good understanding of the politics of power. He is paying off the key interests that he hopes will help him maintain his position and its associated power.

This is true in some way about all positions of power. An unfortunate consequence is that resources spent on helping people are resources that could have been spent buying loyalty. The way the people can benefit is if they are a key supporter that needs to be paid for their support (e.g. by having a strong electoral system). CGP Grey made a very good summary of how this works, "The Rules for Rulers"[1].


Most tax deductions can be explained as rewards to various voting blocs for support. In his "Rules for Rulers" video ( CGP Grey draws an analogy from dictators needing to pay their generals to ensure continued support, to democratic politicians giving out tax deductions to businesses to ensure their support.
My assumption is that he upset some other powerful people who then allowed this to happen. Reminds me of a line from Rules for Rulers by CGP Grey:

It's not the people's revolt that overthrows the king, it's the court who are overthrowing the king by allowing the people's revolt to progress... because the king has stopped providing them with enough treasure to keep him propped up.

My guess is that something changed the political calculus for his key supporters and they either precipitated this or allowed it to happen.

For sure there are other abusers who are probably showering their allies in treasure to keep them loyal so they don't get caught up in this.

What you have is natural selection. Systemic corruption is itself a deterministic outcome/symptom when corruption is an adaptive trait. Unfortunately many undesirable behaviors are adaptive: the risk-adjusted rate of return is positive. 'Bad actors' have much more to gain from engaging in them than watchdogs have in stopping it.

You will always lose the fight against corruption in the long run because as the war goes on you get weaker and they get stronger.

This is a fundamental issue with organizational design (and democracy).

Highly recommended further reading/viewing:

Rules for rulers is very helpful at understanding this:

Iron law of Oligarchy (the deterministic outcome of democracy)

From the Iron Law of Oligarchy page: "no sufficiently large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy"

I'm not sure this is proven yet. Certainly in the past, I'd have agreed, but with communication via the Internet making realtime decision-making between all members of a democracy possible, I think direct democracy is theoretically possible at least.

If not absolutely direct, then at least having the ability to instantly revoke a mandate from someone you have entrusted could go a low way to limiting the power of an oligarchy, as could entrusting different individuals and groups with a single person's vote, depending on the issue. For example, maybe I'd trust a particular economist to vote on my behalf for specific economic proposals, but I'd want Greenpeace to vote on my behalf for anything to do with, say, baby seal clubbing.

So long as the individuals can instantly take back the voting power they have entrusted to someone else, a reasonable semblance of direct democracy could work.

In practice, of course, it would be a hell of a mess to get everything functional, I just don't buy the notion that it's impossible in a world where everyone can communicate with everyone else essentially for free.

I also fell in love with the dream of the democratizing effect of the internet.

The problem is that speech isn't free (as in free beer). It's a commodity. The wealthier or more powerful get more of it. When people see messages frequently they tend to believe them [1]. It doesn't matter how direct your democracy is if people can be strongly influenced to vote as desired.

I used to believe that a sufficiently intelligent and enlightened being could lead a democracy. Rules for Rulers says this is impossible, because the altruistic entity would always lose to the practical power-optimizing one.


> in the past, I'd have agreed, but with communication via the Internet making realtime decision-making between all members of a democracy possible, I think direct democracy is theoretically possible at least.

Our current issues have nothing to do with latency, they have to do with manipulation and propaganda. The internet has so far made that worse, not better. If every single Facebook trend, or 30 second clip from Fox and Friends had the potential to derail an international treaty, or modify healthcare on the fly, reality would be strictly more terrifying than it is now.

Show me web technology improving stability and deep thoughtfulness, and then we'll have something to talk about.

I don't think people have come to grips with the nature of manipulation. We talk about letting everyone vote in realtime, but that doesn't solve the problem, because it's not looking holistically enough.

For example, Suppose on average 1% signup for the military in high school. Next suppose we add an intervention, we add a sign in the lunchroom for military recruiting (touching on all the right emotions). The average in these schools goes up to 3%! We say, these additional recruits CHOSE to join, but we know they wouldn't have had we not added the sign.

It's in this way that I say that realtime voting doesn't solve the problem, because it doesn't look holistically enough, namely at influence. It's not just at the ballot box, but in your daily life. The question then becomes, who can influence and how much?

> who can influence and how much?

Yes! In all organizations, money and power buy influence. The internet briefly changed this, but it has reasserted itself.

What do we expect the powerful to do with their influence then? Rules for rulers says they must use it to increase their power for any other decision reduces their evolutionary fitness and long term survival.

Therefore in the long run altruism is strongly selected against and we would expect to see less of it.

> "I don't think people have come to grips with the nature of manipulation."

I agree that this is a big question. What are the divisions between manipulation, persuasion, coercion, influence, information, and education? Intent? Whether or not we agree with the position? I know that this can come off as flip, but it's not at all meant to.

In the case of the poster, what if there were two posters, an additional one for the local university. Average recruitment goes up 3%, and applications for the local university go up 3%. Does that change our perspective on what happened and the students' choices?

For me it underscores the point, we are under the influence of external forces (manipulated), for better or worse. We are also told, by some actors, that this isn't the case. These folks would have us believe, we are free to choose to enter the military or join college. But...

In this new scenario, students read the signs, the messages are brought to their attention, and of all the possible things they might do, the odds of choosing one of these two things increased some degree. In other words, the external forces in their environment have shaped their future state (choice).

I'd be curious to see a table of interventions, and the degree they pull out the entropy of what a person might do next. We might then make some categories, like you mentioned above.

When we appreciate the power of manipulation, for better or worse, perhaps we'll give it more serious consideration. This ought to undergird our thinking and decision making, whatever we may CHOOSE. ;)

To me the bothersome things are the expansion of the proportional impact of individual influencers and also the shrinking of the number of channels required to deliver influence effectively.

In the lunchroom example, so long as lots of other folks are putting posters on the wall, and presumably some kids don't look at the lunchroom posters, I don't have a problem with either the college or the military changing behavior that way. There were many alternatives, and the poster wasn't forced on anyone. The influence we're seeing now is expensive (much higher proportional impact if you can pay), and effectively guaranteed (everyone is tuned to the same channel or two).

I hope we don't have to analyze individual interventions, I'd much rather just break up the channels, or increase the diversity of the programming. Mostly because I'm not sure how to (and I'm not sure we should) answer your question.

Any online poll serves as an example of this. On the funny side, sometimes you get a whale named "Mr. Splashy Pants" or a boat named "Boaty Mc. Boat Face". Other times, you suggest "Hitler Did Nothing Wrong" as a new flavor of Mountain Dew.

For a legislative vote where some actors have a lot to gain or lose from the outcome, I'd expect the manipulation to get even more egregious than people trolling polls for amusement.

Essentially for free is not “for free”. For example, the best way many people have to communicate with their peers is Facebook. But A) their peers aren’t the ones seeding the discussions, and B) their communication is filtered for signals like “vitality”. More mundane, but important ideas, are a bit squashed on a platform like that.

Picking on Facebook because they’re the biggest, but Twitter appears to be worse on every axis, as it continues to evolve to favor clout.

I think direct democracy is theoretically possible at least.

But would it be desirable? I don't think so.

If not absolutely direct, then at least having the ability to instantly revoke a mandate from someone you have entrusted could go a low way to limiting the power of an oligarchy, as could entrusting different individuals and groups with a single person's vote, depending on the issue.

The later seems like a very good idea. The former not at all. If you trust someone with a mandate, just allow the time needed to develop a consistent plan. Worrying too much about short term is exactly the opposite of good administration.

What you, CGP Grey and other people tend to not say is that this is not a deterministic outcome of democracy at all. Even the second link you posted has some exceptions in the article . The book that the video is based on (the Dictators handbook, great read) contains some ways out of it dilemma. It shows how and why democracy is more efficient at creating wealth for a bigger number of people, and so there is a strong market pressure towards a free society. These forces can be smothered (e.g. by making pessimistic youtube videos because those get viral views) or tapped into and strengthened (by offering counter points, becoming active in your local political sphere etc.) Culture shapes us and is shaped by us. This is not a game where fate is a player (oh, and as a side note for those that need it, it is also in your personal monetary interest to become involved in politics, even if you do not get corrupt. Knowledge and connections are power, even without corrupt behaviour)
Actually that is precisely what the Iron Law of Oligarchy says.
That's true in a democracy, but the question is why would the democracy remain a democracy if the productive, governing elite doesn't need the citizens for their economic activity?

From time to time, governing elites have asked themselves a question: is now the time to overthrow democracy?

When the wealth of a nation comes from the productivity of its citizens, you can't overthrow a stable democracy without destroying the wealth you intended to capture. But when the wealth of a nation comes from its natural resources, say gold or oil, the calculus changes. You can run a gold mine with dying slaves and still extract great wealth.

We see this worldwide as the resource curse:

"The resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources (like fossil fuels and certain minerals), tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources."

Some economists refer to human labor as "the ultimate resource," a resource of value beyond gold, beyond oil. As automation becomes more and more useful, as the value of capital relative to human labor increases, the more we're cursing ourselves with the ultimate resource curse.

I recommend this video to every one (watch it at double speed; he talks slowly).

This CGPGrey video is a decent summary of parts of it:
CGP Grey did a video based on this book for those who want a short (uh...I mean 20-minute) introduction:
You are correct for the most part, but I think you are drawing the wrong implications.

Yes, they are resistant to swings based on mood changes in the population. However, this does not hold for changes of mind or strategy by elected people themselves. They might promise something at some point and then not do it. US history is full of broken promises.

A counterpoint is that Trump and Obama are elected directly and specially on foreign relations they have a huge power to do whatever they like. Obama promised some stuff, Trump retracted it.

> In contrast, a dictatorship is unreliable, because all decisions are made by one person, whose mood swings can result in lots of unpredictability.

That is true in theory but in practice many dictatorships are remarkably stable. A dictator has to please his cronies, he can't do whatever he likes. He can do what he likes as long as it does not touch the interest of the cronies.

Check "Selectorate theory" in political science. Or this nice little video:

The government has limits on how much it can defy economics - if it inflicts too much unnecessary economic damage on its corporate powerbase, they'll go support other factions, who promise to rectify this.

Relevant CGP Grey video:

> I don't believe the tax burden on the lower classes in the US has ever been lessened by increased rates at the top levels.

I'll be frank. I have no reason to believe anyone is honest (not even myself). While we like to say that we are not savage animals, we are. CGP Grey made a video based on The Dictator's Handbook

I read an article on some online magazine which argued that the 0.01% is not the problem but rather the upper middle class as they like to call themselves. I imagine it is the same way all over the world.

> “Take the mortgage deduction,” he continued. “This is to stimulate homeownership amongst people who are already going to own homes. That is worth, to a middle-income family, a hundred bucks a year. I was a little surprised by that. You can have your own reaction; I was a little surprised by that.”

from (NY times link, used to be the title link of this discussion)

I'm sure you know this but I didn't think about this for the longest time. Pretty much everybody is a hypocrite. Sorry but if someone advocates for less taxes on the wealthy, the first thing I will look for is whether I think the change will be good for me. Sorry for being selfish but then if I conclude the change is not in my favor, the first thing I will do is not the merits of their ideas but rather follow the money and see what they gain from this change.

Life is short. In the bigger scheme of things, we are just trying to find a locally optimal choice. When people say they want to lower taxes, they usually mean they want lower taxes for themselves. When people say they want fewer government services, the idea is usually they want fewer government services that they do not use.

> Let's take an example of Apple's $200 B sitting offshore.

Just to put things in simple terms, this $200B does not include money Apple made by selling iPhones in the US, right? It only includes money Apple made by selling iPhones in other countries? I don't get why we obsess so much over it. US economy is large enough. If they want to bring this money back to the US or they want to give money to their owners/stock holders, they can pay the tax at that time? I don't have a horse in this race. I am just trying to understand the premise as an outsider.

> Just to put things in simple terms, this $200B does not include money Apple made by selling iPhones in the US, right? It only includes money Apple made by selling iPhones in other countries? I don't get why we obsess so much over it. US economy is large enough. If they want to bring this money back to the US or they want to give money to their owners/stock holders, they can pay the tax at that time? I don't have a horse in this race. I am just trying to understand the premise as an outsider.

As an American citizen, I'm still subject to federal income tax, even on income earned while I'm residing outside the country, for work done entirely outside the country, for a non-American employer. That being the case, I see no reason why similar rules shouldn't apply to American corporations. If we say an individual still derives services and value from their citizenship even when outside the country, and thus needs to pay in to support that, why not also American businesses?

I don't know enough about business structures and tax code to say _how_ to make it happen, but from a sense of fairness, I think that roughly equitable rules for business and individual entities is a good thing.

> As an American citizen, I'm still subject to federal income tax, even on income earned while I'm residing outside the country, for work done entirely outside the country, for a non-American employer.

This is a really unusual part of the US tax code.

yes. It is very strange that the anti-tax zealots have focussed on this one weird issue, when 99% of them will never, and probably COULD never be affected by it.
ICBW but I believe this applies only to income earned over a certain dollar amount - 80K USD, last I looked, and only at the rate of the delta, if that makes sense.

Oh hey, it's over $100K now:

Please note that number is in USD.

I personally have no problem staying under $100k; I live in Germany and work at a university. But imagine if you lived in Switzerland or Norway. Somewhere with a high cost of living and with a currency that is very strong vs the USD. Then it doesn't take much to go over that 100k.

And even though I don't have to pay US federal taxes (being under that $100k), I still have have the file state taxes, federal taxes, and an FBAR. Every single year. The time and effort is an annoyance, but what bothers me most is the principal. I don't live in the US; I don't use its services; and still, every year, I have to allocate a weekend to provide them with every single detail of my financial life.


>As an American citizen, I'm still subject to federal income tax, even on income earned while I'm residing outside the country, for work done entirely outside the country, for a non-American employer. That being the case, I see no reason why similar rules shouldn't apply to American corporations. If we say an individual still derives services and value from their citizenship even when outside the country, and thus needs to pay in to support that, why not also American businesses?

Wrong question and answer. Assuming what you say is correct (I'm not a tax expert), the question is why is that the law and how can we fix it? The situation you describe is morally wrong. You are getting no protection, use of infrastructure, or other aspects of the services that our taxes provide. Therefore, you should not have to pay tax. Rather than propagate an unfair situation to other entities, the situation should be fixed. A paraphrase of your comment is: I'm getting treated unfairly, so others should also be treated unfairly.

I'm not necessarily convinced that it's unfair. There are still benefits you derive like consular support abroad, and rights you retain regardless of where you're located, and guaranteeing those does have costs.

Perhaps it would be more fair if there was some intermediate tax rate that accounted for services that you aren't able to take advantage of...but at the same time, I think additional rules and exceptions are the last thing the tax code needs.

But you're right that I'm not necessarily so much insistent that business should be subject to that kind of taxation as that I think it should be consistent.

You guys should get out moore, no other country does this. If i work a year in say Australia I pay Australian taxes that year, and nothing in my home country (Denmark). Thats how the rest of the world works.
Don't forget about Eritrea.

Not a joke, I believe this video will answer most of your questions about why a political thing works the way it does:
Any leader stays in power so long as he knows where the money is (controls money flows), pays his key supporters and the army/police.


This video is actually based on the book.
This video by CGP Grey, based on the book "The Dictator's Handbook" is very good at explaining why some countries are richer, even if they have plenty of natural resources:

Another view:

The Dictator's Handbook, by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita & Alastair Smith. - a fascinating take on how and why governments with varying levels of democracy behave the way that they do.

You might've seen CGPGrey's video based on it, the rules for rulers:

Happy to post some links below. I'd also by interested in more good reading in this direction, particularly from someone in political science field (I am not).

Iron Law of Oligarchy:

Selectorate Theory:

Rules for Rulers:

The Dictators Handbook:

The Logic of Political Survival:

This is emergent behavior from modern society's organizational & governing structures. Selective pressures reward these actions. Expect it to happen everywhere unless we implement some fundamental changes or new technologies to alter the risk/reward profile.

I have to recommend CGP Grey's rules for rulers, along with the death & dynasties followup.

>> Why "combat" the impact of robots?

For an outside consideration, take the view outlined in this "Rules for Rulers" video ( )--especially the part that discusses what sort of political structures arise when wealth is generated mostly independent of human production (e.g. are we sitting on a gold mine?).

The view outlined in that video is that the systematic inertia brought by greedy self-centered assholes is nearly impossible to put a stop to by replacing just one person, ergo I take it to mean, that the only realistic way of implementing a sharing scheme has to start with a bloody revolution a-la the French Revolution. Or, of course, we can also just kill off enough people (middle-class and lower only, of course) so that the few remaining ones have guaranteed jobs maintaining the robots (see: Stalinist Communism).

In any case I predict the next few decades will be pretty exciting for future historians. The "A Song of Ice and Fire" kind of exciting.

As a counterpoint, it is possible to distribute windfall profits from natural resources in an equitable manner, and keep a functioning democracy.

It is rare, but not impossible.

Another rare example is the US where mineral rights are spread over millions of individuals instead of the govenment.
I know. Sad set of circumstances.

I feel humanity will always be riddled with the 'lowest common denominator' problem. I don't know if that's the best name for it, maybe there's another. It's the reason for this CGP Grey video(1). Current events at the moment really bother me. I don't know if I'm being cynical or if things are really as bad as they seem.


Jan 31, 2017 · 0max on Trial Balloon for a Coup?
Please refer to the rules for rulers by CGP Grey:
The Dictator's Handbook is a great book if you're interested in the difference between autocracies and democracies. Also, CGP Grey's 'The Rules for Rulers' video is a good intro if you only have 20 mins -
Based on concepts from "The Dictator's Handbook," this is entirely logical.

This 20 minute video opened my eyes to how politics works:

> Elected == accountable...generally speaking.

How so? It's clear that voters don't know how (in aggregate) to make rational choices.

Given the (for a single example) well-known strong-arm get-out-the-vote collusion between Chicago's elected city officials and Chicago's regional street gangs, I'm not sure that I would trust a hegemonic oligopoly any less.

The book that this is based on is pretty interesting:

(I posted this on another thread this week where it was less relevant, so I'll just repost it here and see if anybody notices.)

Mass automation is undermining our democracy in a very specific way: it's acting as the ultimate "resource curse."

"Countries with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources."

Scholars debate the causes of the resource curse, but one popular theory has to do with the way autocrats fund themselves relative to democracies.

Autocrats, it turns out, need a lot of wealth to pay their cronies. No dictator rules alone; they need someone to run the military, someone to collect the taxes, and someone to enforce the laws. Those people have to be paid, and handsomely, or they'll overthrow the dictator (or just allow the dictator to be overthrown). This is called "selectorate theory" and this video is a great introduction.

Oil wealth, specifically, undermines democracy because when autocrats have access to oil wealth, they don't need to depend on their citizens very much. (Indeed, many oil-rich autocratic countries just allow other countries to come in and drill it, keeping local labor entirely out of the loop.)

Resource-cursed autocracies tend to democratize when the oil wealth runs out and they need to rely on the people's productivity to deliver wealth to cronies. When autocrats are forced to allow people to educate themselves and communicate with one another, democracy ensues.

It can work the other way, too. In every democracy, there's a group of folks asking themselves a question: is now the time to try a coup, to replace democracy with an autocracy? As the value of capital increases and the value of human labor decreases, the advantages of staging a coup become more and more enticing.

For years we've thought of human labor as the "ultimate resource." But it turns out that human labor isn't the ultimate resource. Robot labor that's just as good if not better than human labor is a resource beyond any we've ever seen.

But that means that we're discovering/inventing the ultimate resource curse.

We might use automation to fund universal basic income, or a class of elites could use it to undermine "unnecessary" citizens (the "unnecessariat"), establishing a corporate fascism.

When the government depends on human productivity for our tax base, the government needs to keep us all well-educated and healthy. But soon, government won't depend on human labor.

"Is now the time?" they're asking. And, increasingly, the answer is "yes."

> Mass automation is undermining our democracy in a very specific way: it's acting as the ultimate "resource curse."

This. This exact thought occurred to me about a week ago -- to my shame, a full year after I read The Dictator's Handbook.

The natural concentration of robot ownership in the hands of a few creates the same autocracy dynamic as described in the book for oil and other natural resources. Also, robotic factories can be seized and controlled by an autocracy, just like oil wells. What's really scary about this is that threatens stable democracies, like the USA.

Interesting perspective!

The biggest worry here is the automation of law enforcement. Once we're policed by robots, there's nobody to rise up against the dictators.

Maybe we should ensure that every person has one robot to do their work for them, and that's it. No robots for governments and corporations.

Mass automation is undermining our democracy in a very specific way: it's acting as the ultimate "resource curse."

"Countries with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources."

Scholars debate the causes of the resource curse, but one popular theory has to do with the way autocrats fund themselves relative to democracies.

Autocrats, it turns out, need a lot of wealth to pay their cronies. No dictator rules alone; they need someone to run the military, someone to collect the taxes, and someone to enforce the laws. Those people have to be paid, and handsomely, or they'll overthrow the dictator (or just allow the dictator to be overthrown). This is called "selectorate theory" and this video is a great introduction.

Oil wealth, specifically, undermines democracy because when autocrats have access to oil wealth, they don't need to depend on their citizens very much. (Indeed, many autocratic countries rich with oil wealth just allow other countries to come in and drill it, keeping local labor entirely out of the loop.)

Resource-cursed autocracies tend to democratize when the oil wealth runs out and they need to rely on the people's productivity to deliver wealth to cronies. When autocrats are forced to allow people to educate themselves and communicate with one another, democracy ensues.

It can work the other way, too. In every democracy, there's a group of folks asking themselves a question: is now the time to try a coup, to replace democracy with an autocracy? As the value of capital increases and the value of human labor decreases, the advantages of staging a coup becomes more and more enticing.

For years we've thought of human labor as the "ultimate resource." But it turns out that human labor isn't the ultimate resource. Robot labor that's just as good if not better than human labor is a resource beyond any we've ever seen.

But that means that we're discovering/inventing the ultimate resource curse.

We might use automation to fund universal basic income, or a class of elites could use it to undermine "unnecessary" citizens (the "unnecessariat"), establishing a corporate fascism.

When we depend on human productivity for our tax base, we need to keep us all well educated and healthy. But soon, we won't depend on human labor.

"Is now the time?" they're asking. And, increasingly, the answer is "yes."

You're being downvoted because capitalism has nothing to do with the topic at hand. But, because I feel like tilting at windmills, I'll say this: there's nothing inherently corrupting about capitalism. Corruption is inherent to human nature and exists in socialism, communism and every other form of government ever invented.

The reason for this is humans naturally sort themselves into hierarchies and people will always strive to better their position in those hierarchies. With better position comes better chance at survival for you and future generations of you.

Money helps in the climb up the hierarchy, but it's not sufficient in most cases. Most climbs require power. Money can sometimes buy power, but it's not nearly as effective as trading favors, forging political alliances and manipulating people through blackmail.

Money influences power outside of capitalist systems as well. CGP Grey's video 'Rules for Rulers'[0] does a great job of illustrating why.


fair enough I should have just down-voted the guy above me for saying government is innately corrupt and moved on.

The more people dismiss corruption as normal in the government the more corrupt it will be.

Our government has no incentive to retain them. Their main source of money is not small / medium / innovative business taxation - it's oil and other natural resources. And you don't need higher education and talent to extract oil. Actually, you don't need any population at all.

As I see it, their real incentive would be to shut down the higher education system, because it a) costs money, b) sends a good part of produced talent to other countries, and c) produces educated citizens which are harder to manipulate.

Sadly, I hear quite a few confirmations of this from friends who work in education.

BTW, here's a great video, Rules for Rulers, which is basically a video TL;DR of "The Dictator's Handbook" that explains incentives of democratic and autocratic rulers:

Many dictatorships eventually failed due to a lack of brains. The Third Reich is a prime example of this.
What? The German war machine was extremely efficient compared to its counterparts, especially if you compare the asymmetric casual count. Many technologies such as radar or jet aircraft were first used by the Germans. I'm pretty sure Germany lost because several countries united, and took heavy casualities fighting rather than a failure of the education aystem.
The 'lack of brains' argument holds if you're looking at the Third Reich leadership rather than Germany as a nation. Aside from the poor choice of trying to take on both the USSR and the USA, near the end of the war, the Third Reich made a number of awful military tactics and logistics decisions that accelerated their loss.
What? Albert Speer pulled off a "armaments miracle" where production increased despite allied bombings. [1]

Hitler got extremely far in the war against the USSR, and probably lost (in his words [2]) because the USSR rapidly moved production beyond Nazi reach. Also the USSR had a resolve to send millions of people in near suicide waves, something the French refused. Also the unwillingness of the Japanese to attack the USSR [3].




Most of the brilliant scientists and engineers behind that technology were trained before the Nazis came to power.
This is necessarily true because the Nazi's were in power for less than 15 years. Nevertheless, many scientists, specifically those whose work was directly applicable to war effort received significant support. For example, Wernher von Braun, a large part of those thesis was classified.


Humanity is pretty awesome. We're an incredibly tiny, fragile, and short-lived piece of the universe that has become self aware. I believe that comes with a responsibility.

Unfortunately though most individuals are good, _organized_ people produce undesirable outcomes. It's emergent behavior, a structural issue, not user error. CGPgrey explores how this affects governments in rules for rulers (

> Unfortunately though most individuals are good, _organized_ people produce undesirable outcomes.

I would say the opposite. Humans, individually, are fundamentally the same as we were 1000 years ago. Our base survival instincts and drives produce behavior that is typically not "good", as you put it, and they haven't changed. But yet our behavior in many areas has advanced (human rights, tolerance, civil society). This is the result of culture, of "organized" people as you put it. Remember, the Prisoners Dilemma is a dilemma precisely because the prisoners aren't allowed to organize.

Almost all of society's ills that are self-inflicted are the aggregate result of individuals making self-serving and cynical decisions. For example, sexism in the workplace would have long disappeared if every man who knew it was wrong took a stand against it every time it occurred. But most such men stay silent, or even play along, because it is better for their career (and their family's financial well-being). Doing the right thing will likely only get them ostracized. It will also have little impact on sexism, they rightly believe, because every other guy will have the same calculus. So instead of everyone speaking out, we have everyone staying silent. A self-fulfilling prophesy. This is a flaw of individuals, not groups. All advances we've made regarding women's rights are entirely the result of organized humanity.

There are studies that show that people are more ethical in groups than as individuals. (Unfortunately I can't find the links to those that I had thought I saved.)

Awesome. I'd be interested in those studies. The argument is that society manages behavior. That's reasonable. Not all organization is bad.

Would you agree that the organizations that run our countries and companies tend to behave rather poorly? I'm curious what you'd think of the linked video above.

Congratulations! You have re-discovered the Iron Law of Oligarchy (1911). Organizations become oligarchies.

To kick your understanding of organizational problems up a level, I recommended watching CGP Grey's 'Rules for Rulers'

Is is dangerous to not call out evil for what it is; unfortunately, you're looking at a symptom rather than the cause. Effort wasted hating Castro, Hillary, Trump, climate change policies, or GB surveillance laws is lost from actually fixing our world.

It is easier to hate people than to accept that their behavior is emergent and afflicts us as well. The most intelligent, benevolent AI or angel will fail in our complex systems/organizations. This is an incredibly desperate understanding, particularly when you realize that those in power are disincentivized from making improvements.

Organizations DEMAND 'evil' behavior. It is not User Error.

CGP Grey has a great video that can help open your mind, if you are willing.

Nov 26, 2016 · Beltiras on Fidel Castro has died
I found this video [1] quite enlightening about the nature of power and how to hold onto it.


Somewhat depressing to combine the insight of that video with the future of AI and widespread automation. Dictatorships here we come.
Many of the folks here like CGP Grey's video on this topic, "Humans Need Not Apply"

But you should watch that in contrast with one of his newest videos, "The Rules for Rulers"

> The more the wealth of a nation comes from the productive citizens of the nation, the more the power gets spread out, and the more the ruler must maintain the quality of life for those citizens. The less, the less.

> Now if a stable democracy becomes very poor, or if a resource that dwarfs the productivity of the citizens is found, the odds of this gamble change, and make it more possible for a small group to seize power.

That's why basic income is inevitable. We simply don't have enough jobs for everyone.
The keystone of democracy is distributed production of value. Basic income is redistribution. Certain Arabian countries have basic income: they redisitribute a part of the oil rent to all citizens.

These places are utterly undemocratic, though, being monarchies with few limitations. This is because it takes a rather small clique to control the oil wells and pipes that produce, say, 80% of the national budget. Once they are in power, other citizens have little to do to limit their power. The next guy to depose them is tempted (and usually yields to the temptation) to build the next version of the same regime. The countries that buy the oil (or gold, or whatever the single key product is) don't care about democracy in these countries; they care about stability of their supplies, and thus stability of the regime in the country.

Now replace oil wells with robotic factories plus a few key power stations. If all of this requires a small amount of people to operate, and is as easy to physically control as oil wells, you might have the same situation. 90% of population are suddenly irrelevant, living on a whim of the small group of rulers who control 80-90% of GDP.

I wonder, to transition from a democracy with widely distributed production, to a non-democratic regime with concentrated production, without initiating revolution, is it necessary to prepare by destruction of community at the local level and reduction of population's level of education, given educated, connected citizens are more likely to revolt than disconnected, starving, illiterate peasants. That is not something that can be done overnight.

However, I am not sure it is likely that western democracies with diverse economies can regress to sufficiently concentrated ownership of production to facilitate a dictatorial regime. In the case of the US, 0.1% of 350 million is still 350,000, so there are a lot of highly motivated rich people who would like to avoid losing in a winner takes all dictatorship. A government that supports the rule of law, property rights etc. is a necessary 'evil' if you are one of the 0.1% who might lose out in the dictator scenario, as that rule of law is all that prevents the 0.1% from turning into <0.0001%. I think it is easy to facilitate dictatorship in an undeveloped, poor economy, but less so in a diverse, developed economy, even one with significant wealth inequality. The more diverse the economy, the more keys to power.

There is some interesting (and somewhat relevant) commentary on historical thought about paying for government in Mark Blyth's talk at google[1], which contains the following conclusions:

-Democracy is Asset Insurance for the Rich

-Redistribution and Debt is Reinsurance for Democracy

-Austerity is Anorexia for the Economy

His comments on Brazil in the Q&A after the talk are also relevant.


Reminds me of this quote, or some version of it, attributed to various people by various source...

Democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.

Curious about the largess comment in light of US politics. There seems to be a broadly supported movement against government payouts.
The barely middle class was turned against the poor. The former is the movement against payouts, even though they're one bad incident away from being part of the latter group.
If you look at the red/blue voting patterns, I don't think you can justify calling most of rural America "barely middle class." Census would put a lot of those people in the lower class bracket.
Reasonable. Maybe a perception that they're lower, not middle class? Much of the rhetoric from Trump voters in this election revolves around how poor they feel/hard they work.
I think it's definitely more nuanced in the US than "poor vote for welfare, rich vote against." Unfortunately, I'm not sure what a more fitting summary would be.

I think you're absolutely right that Trump supporters' motivation seems to be "I work my ass off and don't have anything to show for it" (born out of wage stagnation in real terms). But the question would still be "Then why didn't they simply support a candidate that promised welfare increases?"

Part of the answer is that Clinton didn't lean on redistribution as her narrative to the degree Sanders did, probably to prevent Republican attacks. The optimist in me also likes to think that there is something in the American zeitgeist about work earning rewards. Which I think is confounded by two modern trends: free trade / automomation depressing or eliminating low and middle wage jobs, and a growing realization of wealth disparity and work effort disparity (e.g. myself making many multiples more than someone breaking their back building infrastructure).

End result being someone comparing their work effort to what he or she sees on TV, then comparing their rewards to what he or she sees on TV. And feeling depressed and angry as a result.

Sounds like Germany right now.

Next year we will spent around 25% on refugees. I wonder when the point of an emergency budget arrives.

I thought one of the reasons Germany was accepting refugees more so than other countries was because they had a demographic / labor problem that refugees would help fix?
No labor problem. What is missing are highly educated or experienced IT people.

What a problem is that germans arw too expensive. Back when germany invited the turkish people they at least admitted they wanted cheap labor.

Now they are just lying. Or completely ignoring that in ten or twenty years those people will be useless and sit at home because a ton of those jobs will be automated.

When you've got a negative population trend, it's hard to argue against migration under any circumstances. Maybe capital and automation take the place of younger workers, but that's a pretty serious bet to gamble social welfare program solvency on.

25% of what? Do you have a source?

interestingly, German sources like Zeit estimates / writes about 50 billion for 2017, while all English sources low ball here. (or don´t cite the source) Zeit is a pretty well known source.

As we both know, projects and estimations are are hard! Very hard! So I guess it will be around 60 billion :)

Tax revenue plans around 230 to 300 billion. Hence the 25% and my guess that they will announce soon or later an emergency budget to cut costs (we have a law, basically saying: we must go to our black 0, at all costs) Cutting costs hits the usual targets (I guess):

Social services Infrastructure School and education


Interesting times are ahead :)

You're describing:

A very old idea from the ancient greeks. I completely agree with this theory. Sadly, I'm often treated like a conspiracy theorist when I tell people about it.

The idea is simple, there are seven stages of governance for people.

1. Monarchy, 2. Kingship, 3. Tyranny, 4. Aristocracy, 5. Oligarchy, 6. Democracy, and 7. Ochlocracy

The cycle just endlessly repeats itself through time.

You underestimate the power of partisan ideologues. Many millions will die before that comes to pass.
...or the notion of what a job is changes. Unless machines can literally provide everything that humans can want (including art, interaction, companionship, etc), then there will always be something for humans to do to make money.
Which are all relatively poorly paying.

Art is a log scale when it comes to compensation - and many of the best paid are dead.

The issue is not job loss, its job replacement with worse paying service sector jobs which act as a barrier to upward social movement (because lower pay means less access to various positive network effects)

>Which are all relatively poorly paying

Relative to stuff we place higher utility on than art, because opportunity cost. But as the price of that stuff approaches zero due to mass automation of production so does the opportunity cost of art.

Like in The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. You can make anything in the matter compiler for free, so long as you've bought the intellectual property rights for the design.
I think you are missing another potential implication: as less wealth is generated by productive citizens, and more from automation, there is less incentive for the ruler to maintain or improve quality of life.
In democratic states, the people themselves are sovereign. They simply won't stand for the level of unemployment that mass automation will bring.
How did the Great Depression happen, and continue to happen before democracy kicked in?
Absolutely, and let's hope we find ourselves in a democratic state at such a time.
Exactly. The shift is already on. So I guess that means the democracy is done. Given the election that might be true.
How exactly they "won't stand"?

For instance, they won't allow automation of this kind on their ground. As Ned Ludd would have it, they will keep the machines out and the humans in.

Suddenly their production is much costlier that what the robot-running neighbors produce. They can't export it (nobody would buy), but they can still locally consume it. But for that they need to limit the imports of the same thing to keep the prices up.

As the list of robot-produced goods grows, more and more import restrictions are added, and things cheaply available abroad become dear and inaccessible in the country.

I don't think a democratic government with a policy like that will last too long.

It looks more interesting to think how to distribute the ownership, a share in a huge robotic factory so that it is not easily falls under control of a single person or a small group. It might be an interesting game-theoretic problem.

Well there a version of shared ownership under communism, but I don't think people are happy to consider that line of ideas
Once they're dying under an automated society which should be able to give them everything they need, social ownership over the means of production (some form of socialism, most likely) might seem a lot more palatable.
The problem is that under communism, it's usually not ownership. You can't take away or sell your "share". All "communist" states I know about degraded to bureaucracy-run states.

Truly communist institutions, e.g. some monasteries, just abolish the notion of propery. They need unusually and highly motivated people to operate, though, that are few and fail to be mass-produced.

Welcome to the industrial revolution 2.0 where we once again have to wrestle with the question of who owns the means of production. Its an interesting problem and one that has been study a lot but not solved.
Competition of democratic labor against automation is an interesting way to look at the current US popular support for tariffs and trade barriers.

Popular wisdom seems to look at China / Mexico manufacturing as supported by low labor costs, but in reality they're more and more supported by capital-intensive automation (enabled by the systems engineering expertise at running the low-labor cost plants originally).

There's a lot of decent comments being downvoted. Really mature.
I used to think this, but I no longer do. If we get mass automation, I think we're going to get one of these outcomes:

1) Individuals have their own robots. For example, everybody gets their own automated hydroponic garden, enough to provide them with sufficient calories.

2) A dictatorship seizes control of the automation and lets the people starve.

I think it's very unlikely that we'll have a welfare-capitalist society where major corporations own mass automation, where the government taxes the corporation so highly that government can pay for everyone else to survive.

Taxing mass automation to pay for basic income is just too fragile. If the people themselves aren't providing wealth through productive labor, then at some point, somebody will try to starve them instead of feeding them, and they'll succeed.


I've always held that the people on HN are more of builders than profit maximizeds. As a result you don't hear or encounter people who think in a different manner.

In particular you don't hear people say "why should my factories/effort/investment go to subsidize people who do nothing." Or a variety of similar arguments which have different starting assumptions.

Essentially the BI+automation arguments largely depend on a milk of human kindness in a world where the incentives for a large number of people and nations is not so aligned.

People will always make choices on the margin and the betterment of humanity usually comes a distant last to personal welfare. To balance this out means a huge number of taxes/laws/incentives to prevent that outcome.

You guys (Americans) are going to be fighting over your basic assumptions of society (capitalist with caveats vs "socialists" with caveats) very soon.

But all of this assumes that automation happens and takes away jobs. it likely won't, it will most likely replace well Paying jobs with less well paying jobs.

At this point economists will talk about retraining people but that's bs - there physical limits to how fast neurons can be retrained and that's if you don't have any other time demands/financial issues/health issues/aptitude issues.

It depends entirely on how democratized the robotics are, plus the food.

What if in the future all food's patented? What if due to climate change the traditional stocks don't grow, or due to regulation you can't grow it. Maybe actual cows are illegal, but you can vat-grow beef-like food.

This is why having open-source, affordably licensed technology is imperative. Affordable for some people might mean free, which makes certain licenses absolutely paramount.

If we can build our own robots, design our own food, we're no longer wage slaves. If we can't, if we must feed into some system that extracts heavy taxes from all of us, the opposite is true.

This is why I don't care about using proprietary software. So long as I have options which aren't proprietary I'm content, and if those options are threatened it's worth defending them. This is different from trying to destroy proprietary software.

You've missed one possibility.

Do you pay for the air you breath? Does the government tax corporations to provide a basic air income for people to ensure that everyone gets their fair share of air? No. Why not?

The reason you don't pay for the air you breath is because air is so immensely plentiful, so easy to get, so impossible for anyone from stopping you from getting, that of course it doesn't cost anything.

Imagine if things like food were the same.

See George England's Air Trust:
I hope that's what happens, but the crucial (potential, but I think likely) difference between air and automation is that air is not owned by default. Automation will be, and I can't imagine whoever owns it is excited about sharing the gains.
3) Workers who felt their livelihood threated by automation flung their wooden shoes called sabots into the machines to stop them. Hence the word...
Can you explain your reasoning? I don't get where you obtain "somebody will try to starve them instead of feeding them" from "If the people themselves aren't providing wealth through productive labor."
Did you watch the "Rules for Rulers" video? The tl;dw is that rulers who need productive citizens promote their well-being; rulers who don't need their citizens to be productive don't.
> Taxing mass automation to pay for basic income is just too fragile.

No no no no. Souvereign investment is not income constrained, taxation does not even need to enter the picture.

With #1, Do you think it will become some form of modern feudalism, with wealthier and powerful individuals owning the local community?
3) 2), except they don't succeed. Reference: Guillotine, France, 1792.
Some throwaway thoughts:

Having all production automated will result in falling prices, including the cost to automate something. This should result in a lot of competition, driving prices down even more. In this scenario, it is difficult to imagine someone having a monopoly on production for long, unless they are already a dictator.

Dictators tend to have to keep at least a portion of their population happy, otherwise they lose control. A large portion of the population with nothing to loose (as they are starving) tends to result in revolution. If the cost of production (or cost of imports) is close to 0, what motivation (beyond bond style villany) does a dictator have to make their population starve?

If everyone is out of work, no one has any money to pay for the products of the capital owners. What's the point of that?

Dictators tend to have to keep at least a portion of their population happy, otherwise they lose control.

This portion might end up being very small: i.e. a small, highly automated, robotic military, an automated surveillance/intelligence apparatus, and a few elites who own all the big corporations along with their top AI designers, weapons designers, etc. You could probably wipe out 99% of the population and still pull this off.

Bit late replying, but another couple of points:

If a class of resource is cheap and abundant, evil dictators/1%ers don't really have much motivation to prevent people accessing those things, unless they feel it somehow undermines their control.

I also think there would be less motivation to become a dictator if you didn't have to fight everyone else for limited resources.

It would also be much harder for the warlord type to motivate others around them to do their bidding if those others are well fed/clothed/housed.

For as long as the world population continues to increase, land will continue to become more scarce and expensive as a result. Land is scarce even in the so-called utopia depicted in Star Trek. We may reach a point where everybody has an apartment and unlimited food, clean water, medical care, and cheap entertainment (books, TV, video games) but what about access to nature? The ability to go hiking, canoeing, fishing, and camping in a pristine wilderness is rapidly disappearing. At what point do we all end up in a sprawling, dystopian mega-metropolis so commonly depicted in cyberpunk? For many who live in Asia, we are already there.
>> A large portion of the population with nothing to loose (as they are starving) tends to result in revolution.

The typo just triggered the tritism in my head: a person with nothing to lose has a lot to loose.

Solzhenitsyn - when you take everything from a man, and can take nothing more, that man is no longer in your power - he is free again.
> Dictators tend to have to keep at least a portion of their population happy, otherwise they lose control.

The portion can be very small. It has to include the military, and it has to include the people involved in creating GDP, but if production is centralized (e.g. because the nation's resources are in digging stuff out of the ground), then the masses can be kept very poor.

Watch the "Rules for Rulers" video I linked above. Resource-rich dictators don't need to provide public education or adequate roads, say nothing of adequate food. "The people stay quiet, not because this is fine, or because they're scared, but because the cold truth is: starving, disconnected illiterates don't make good revolutionaries."

So can production be centralized in the face of mass automation? I think so. Look at farming. Seizing control of all of the farms in the 1880s would be a massive operation spanning the entire North American continent. Seizing control of today's Big Farming conglomerates would be relatively straightforward for a modern dictator.

Which is to say, we'll get through this if the automation is decentralized, but if it's like farming, where a few expensive machines make all of the food for hundreds of millions of people, then we're on a path to ruin.

> we'll get through this if the automation is decentralized

I'm following the 3D-printing and makerspace movement because of this. It's imperative that blueprints for vital objects to be 3D-printed aren't locked up by copyrights.

For a more pessimistic view see "Obsolete".
Do you mean the book by Anna Jane Grossman? Or something else?
Documentary on Amazon.
dfabulich for the curious
I liked the first video, it's well made. I think it misses the mark really badly - close to the end, the author realizes that the bots will create a lot of things very cheaply, and yet he doesn't realize that having lots of things very cheaply is NOT a problem :)

We don't want jobs; we want lots of things (and services), very cheaply. Jobs are the traditional way we were getting them. If there's another way of getting them, that will be fine.

One thing I learned from Julian Simon: things always get better. One thing I learned from Christianity: people love to predict the end of the world.

I didn't watch the entire second video; when he started explaining how the taxes are lower in a democracy compared to a dictatorship I just got annoyed.

Where will your money, which you have to have to buy the incredibly cheap things or services, come from when you do not have a job any more?

We already have a job market where a significant number of people have become permanently unemployable because their competences are not wanted.

Now imagine mass unemployment not only in blue collar work but also in white collar work due to automation. If unemployed white collar workers cannot get jobs and blue collar workers cannot migrate to white collar jobs because both job types are replaced by automation and AI, where will they get an income?

You won't need money, in the long run. Just automation. And automation could self replicate cheaply, especially if it doesn't require rare materials.
You will need money if resources and the means of production are concentrated in the hands of the few. For example, there's no guarantee that access to housing will be democratised.
It will be open source versus closed source. Automation lends itself to being computer driven and people will be desperate for a way to share in the benefits, so they will rebuild from scratch and open source their own automation tools. It's already happening with the Fab Lab Network[1].


You can't 'open source' more land. Whomever controls the natural resources will control how they're used.
The amount of unused land in the world is mind-boggling. The amount of unused land in the most populous countries in the world is mind-boggling.
Just because it's unused doesn't mean it's not owned by someone. Besides, what happens when all land is owned, what about the generations that follow?
I think it's a bit early to try and solve all future problems. Those poor people who will have no jobs need something to do, right? :)

[I agree that "it's owned by someone" can be a problem more than "there's not enough land". Unfortunately, that's politics so I have no quick solution.]

"there's not enough land" wasn't my original point, it was about control of that land, I'm glad you agree it's a problem.

As for what happens to the poor in future generations, it depends on bringing out the best in those with the power to choose. I don't think the alternative is helpful to entertain at this point. The only question is whether we can mature as a race to share without force, or whether balance will be made using force (government coercion, etc...). It's a question about how much faith we have in the human race to grow up quickly.

That argument is skipping straight to the "Profit!" point. A somewhat distant Star Trek future where resources are distributed evenly among all. I'd like that to happen, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Meanwhile the argument ignores the not so far away reality where automation is available to the people who already have resources and jobs today, leaving even more people who currently have little without jobs and automation.

A job is not a right today, it is a responsibility. Our society assumes that everyone, or at least a large majority of all that can, has a job. How do we prepare for a future where the majority cannot get a job?

The most promising answer currently seems to be Basic Income. Though that leaves me asking too. How will we convince people and corporations that have to give up more of their income and accept taxing their property, to redistribute all resources to a huge mass of people that have not money, nor influence? It seems very easy as long as it isn't your own money. Paying taxes, few say that they enjoy that.

Organizations select for power-hungry behavior. Changing these processes would reduce the likelihood of them or their allies winning that power. An individual who reduces the power of themselves or their allies will be weaker/less desirable/less fit than either internal or external competition that does the opposite. It is a race to psychopathy that intensifies with competition.

It's the same for electoral reform or [insert your list seemingly irrational/bad organizational behavior here].

Trump himself said it was broken - but it doesn't matter because he won.

Any frustrations we have are irrelevant unless we have power.


Details here from a prior post:

1. Iron law of oligarchy (1911 - 1700 words on wikipedia): "all complex organizations, regardless of how democratic they are when started, eventually develop into oligarchies."

2. Dictator's handbook (2011) - Or CGP Grey's summary: rules for rulers (2016 - 18 minutes): "Bad behavior" is emergent from power structures rather than human weakness. From democracies to dictatorships, organizations select for Machiavellian and psychopathic behaviors.

I can't recommend these enough. This life altering perspective takes <30 minutes to go over - plus potentially several days of despair. The problems with the world are not user error. How can technology help?

1. 2.

I think Bitcoin is right now the most powerful technology that can help... it got me out of despair when I understood it more. It can't help the climate short term, but at least restructure the power long term to people who hopefully have a better scientific understanding.
Interesting. Could you expand on that thought? I'm curious how it would be different from our current solutions. Taking the power away from national reserves?
I think this video explains your observations correctly
If you would like to elevate your thinking on this subject in order to understand what's going on, I recommend:

1. Iron law of oligarchy (1911 - 1700 words on wikipedia): "all complex organizations, regardless of how democratic they are when started, eventually develop into oligarchies."

2. Dictator's handbook (2011) - Or CGP Grey's summary: rules for rulers (2016 - 18 minutes): "Bad behavior" is emergent from power structures rather than human weakness. From democracies to dictatorships, organizations select for Machiavellian and psychopathic behaviors.

I can't recommend these enough. This life altering perspective takes <30 minutes to go over - plus potentially several days of despair.

The problems with the world are not user error. How can technology help?

1. 2.

"The problems with the world are not user error." - wow. This is why HN is mostly the only forum I hang around.

If you really want to go deep study game theory. IMHO it offers very satisfying hard mathematical explanations for at least some of these things.

I consider it and its related fields (evolutionary informatics, complexity) to be among the greatest intellectual achievements of the 20th century. These fields are grossly under-taught. You generally won't hit them unless you study economics, ecology, or evolutionary biology.

If there is an answer to any of these awful paradoxes, it is going to be found in these subjects rather than in any form of conventional or even unconventional politics, religion, philosophy, etc. These are just rearrangements of the deck chairs.

I'm glad to see CGP Grey being noticed here. His YouTube channel[1] is highly addictive, and I'm glad he's taken a foray into longer form narratives as well as the fast paced.

His videos on elections are particularly relevant these days!


Seems to me that cabals can always form and skew the implementation away from the ideal balance that makes the concept of democracy seem so fair in the first place. I'll recite a personal narrative as my main observation of this potential outcome in the wild.

Several years ago I helped cofound a worker owned for-profit software and design cooperative. Its constitution was formulated around a mix of product incubation and consulting in support of labour solidarity through cultivation of progressively more interesting/motivating/challenging work. It was founded after we had all quit our high-performing and very profitable agency whose non-technical/non-creative ownership cut one too many corners on the sustainable systems that we were working on. Typical anti-flow type management decisions with arbitrary deadlines, death marches, and silly promises to clients despite solid contracts (which I had written and negotiated directly with the clients and our lawyers).

In the new co-op that us engineers and designers from the old company formed, there was growth early on, and a plan to expand to new cities/markets because the cost structure was horizontally scalable by design. This was before boutique remote app studios and incubators became commonplace (at least before all the really big agencies tried to get in on it, e.g. Sid Lee, Ogilvy).

Lo and behold, it turned out there were just barely enough members who wanted to take a more employee/entitlement oriented tack (as opposed to entrepreneurial) vs the other half. These members were of the same local cultural and linguistic background (the socially dominant one), whereas the rest of us were from all over. The locals formed a "cabal" of sorts and pushed for spending lots of money on a swanky office, vetoed horizontal expansion and denied the right to work for one of the members who had just moved to a new city as part of the previous plan (by voting to refuse to allocate some of our mandated work to him).

The original vision fell apart and was replaced by something more parochial. The more "ambitious" cofounders all left and the co-op continues to thrive in its own way today but as a shadow of the dream we had in the beginning.

An autocracy would not have endured these trials so early on. In top-down mode, the boss gets to enforce focus. Certainly not good if the dictator is not benevolent, but the experience provided for a lot of reflection on governance.

Reminds me of this explainer video I saw recently from CGP Grey:

No matter the exact loci of power, there are always gradients between the points, and forces that can bring imbalance are very hard (perhaps undesirable) to control.

The whole "better angels of our nature" optimism thing kind of seems like sticking your head in the sand to me.

Any state that wants to stick around had better be good at defending itself and its interests. If you're so "enlightened" that you've forgotten how to resolve conflicts in a non-ritualized/systematized way, then someone is going to come along and

We can't really rely anymore on the "End of History" theory that the arrow of time inevitably points toward peaceful liberal democracy

Was that ever a theory, or was it really just something that people wanted to believe because it sounds hopeful and nice? For most people, it's the latter. It actually has an economic basis to it, however. The more you distribute wealth and power, the wider a constituency must be protected by the current regime.

it has definitely been much worse-- but that all the incentives are aligned toward making it worse

Exactly how much worse? There's nothing fundamentally wrong with a local maxima, so long as the overall trend is up. The backslide can't be too excessive without destabilization, however. (We're seeing that!)

I'm reading your comment and having trouble figuring out exactly where we disagree.

> Any state that wants to stick around had better be good at defending itself and its interests.

I agree? I'm not sure where in my comment you got the opposite impression, nor why it seems relevant to my argument.

> Was that ever a theory, or was it really just something that people wanted to believe because it sounds hopeful and nice?

"The End of History and the Last Man" was hugely influential in political science circles in the 90's and early 2000's, on both the left and the right. People definitely bought its premise of the inevitability of liberal democracy as eventually taking over the world through market forces and social movements alone.

I would argue it even had a cultural impact outside academia and policy wonks. Even now, when people say they're not worried about current problems because "it'll work itself out somehow", they are implicitly citing Fukuyama even if they don't realize it.

> The backslide can't be too excessive without destabilization, however. (We're seeing that!)

Which is why I'm talking about forces and incentives. I wouldn't be so worried if I could see anything on the horizon that might push things back upward. But the trends that alarm me (breakdown in social trust, loss of trust in democracy) are mostly positive feedback loops that only get stronger with time.

I'm reading your comment and having trouble figuring out exactly where we disagree.

Why do you think we disagree?

Heh, I guess I just inferred that from the tone of your comment, but maybe you were irked by the same implications I was and was responding testily to them, not me. Or maybe I just misread you entirely. Mea culpa :)
Oct 24, 2016 · 36 points, 7 comments · submitted by thomasstephn
I'd point out that this video is basically "The Dictator's Handbook" in a nutshell video form. And that book is far from universally accepted, so while the video is presented in a very assertive tone you might want to take it with a grain of salt.
It's actually very widely accepted, and his methods are used in the intelligence community for political forecasting.

It threatens a lot of conventional beliefs, but they are conventional mainly because, as shown, people are sheep.

This is probably the most dangerous video ever produced.

AI and data are the new oil, so beware folks - when the peasant workers are no more needed, you may want to watch out for the dictators trying to take over the ship.
This is brilliant.
It seems that the key lesson is that to minimize the horrible nature of human politics: have less government and more poles of power within it.

This is the design goal of the US Constitution, from the federal nature of the system to the gridlock-by-design of the central government.

> more poles of power

Yet two-party system is opposite of that.

I meant between the actual institutions of government, but you raise a good point.

I think that proportional representation is worse. Let's say you have the following election split: 45% Conservative, 45% Socialist, 10% Green. In such a scenario, the Green Party becomes king-maker and wields enormous power nearly equal to whoever it chooses as coalition partner and highly disproportionate to its tiny share of the vote.

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