Continuing the discussion, how long do these social norms last? Even Dan, I’m sure, is aware there are limits to this phenomenon. People may help move a couch for free, but they won’t move 100 couches for free, no matter how loyal. He describes a pleasant experience at Burning Man, where money is prohibited and people exchange goods and services in a barter-like economy — all he demonstrated is that without money people still expect some form of compensation. While acknowledging he probably couldn’t live at Burning Man forever, he did leave with a new respect for moneyless societies; however, that in itself is an irrational conclusion. The admission that he couldn’t survive in that environment permanently is a damning indictment of its failure as an ideology in theory and practice.
Even if a government managed to create the conditions required to encourage most people to work without compensation, it wouldn’t last forever and it wouldn’t convince everyone. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
Human behavior is almost never universal. In my opinion, generally speaking, there are two kinds of people — those who walk, and those who talk. Those with ambition, and those with excuses. Those with energy, perseverance and ability to initiate productive actions, and everyone else. The ambitious people among us will not change in a society without money, they will simply look for alternate means to achieve their goals. If there are no legal means for them to satisfy their appetite, they will not conform to “social norms”, many will either withdraw from society, rebel against it or descend to the black market and fight their way to the top with covert, corrupt or violent means. How should the government react to such people? Does the Gulag sound familiar to anyone? In which category do you suspect reside the captains of industry, those responsible for creating our most productive institutions and useful products? How would society advance without them? When people realize family members are disappearing in order to preserve ideology will they ignore the atrocities or lose faith in their utopia? How many people love an idea more than their children? You can’t impose duty, loyalty, responsibility and a sense of debt towards a dis-respected institution.
Whatever you present to people as reality, whether it’s true or not, will eventually be resented over time. With repeated exposure minor inconveniences can evolve into major intolerable failures. People tend to hate what they have and desire what they dream. Too much simplicity makes us long for challenging work, too much work makes us long for leisure, too much leisure makes us long for stimulation, too much stimulation makes us long for simplicity, rinse and repeat. The only question is who will be blamed for our frustration. When people nominate themselves to positions of perceived importance, even if the facts don’t justify the label, they may benefit undeservedly from any victories, but also suffer unnecessarily from any defeats — the same holds true for a government. The more they try to solve our problems, the more they’ll be blamed for causing our problems.
Which brings me to the benefit of de-centralized power and self-selection — next part on the way.
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