What do you want?




One day someone may offer to fulfill your wishes and dreams. The question is, are they an honest dealer, or are they concealing the cost of their help and the size of the benefits they can actually provide?

This Wish Seller may be a car salesmen, but the Wish Seller that’s most dangerous is the politician seeking power. Voting, for better or worse, does not work on a “cash on delivery” system. You vote now for the guy who promises to fulfill your wishes in the future, whether by passing a law you desire or raising a tax that will be spent for your benefit. 

In comments to my previous post, AG asks if people who are angry at institutions that fail to delivery “the goods” will moderate their expectations over time, or if people will continue to expect governments to deliver the impossible (leading to cycles of instability). 

Now we are getting into pure conjecture, but I think two things will happen.

Firstly, the violent revolutions will eventually stop. The institutions and forms of governance that are necessary to meet basic needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy are well known, globally. Only pockets of ideological resistance (such as Bolivarian Venezuela or among the crazier Islamnic cults like Boko Haram) remain (a.k.a., the “End of History” has arrived). The nations which have not caught up to the developed world (like Peru) have done so due to lazy cronies being in power, not out of ignorance of the benefits of property rights and rule of law (as Hernando de Soto proves). Eventually, enough revolutions will see all the bad actors out of power and replaced. This may take three, four or more revolutions in some of the harder case countries, but I’m fairly confident that the digital egalitarian society will keep working this problem until it’s solved.

Secondly, there’s a difference between the people who want things that can be delivered (e.g., low taxes and a tolerable administration of justice) verses people who want things that cannot be delivered (e.g., large scale socialism or government benefits that exceed the tax base). Category 1 people will eventually get what they want, and Category 2 people will eventually learn, however hard a case they are, and thus cycles of instability will eventually peter out in both cases.

Why am I confident about Category 2 eventually learning? The reason is that it’s just impossible for a Walter Duranty to exist in today’s world. Any bald-faced lie in the news is quickly debunked, and the reasons why are at least available for those willing to hear. Only systems of near-total media control (as practiced in modern China and North Korea) can produce false information faster than the digitally-egalitarian public can produce and process truth. And on a long enough time scale, I don’t see Chinese or Korean-style regimes of control lasting forever, if only because nothing lasts forever and once they collapse it’s really hard to put them back in place.

The above means that the record of success and failure will be plainly available for all to read. There will always be holdouts who, for emotional reasons, refuse to see the truth about one thing or another, but I expect that democratic majorities of people will prove open enough and morally flexible enough to judge the facts for themselves and vote accordingly. (And if you don’t believe me, you’re far too cynical. The view of the voting public obviously changes over time. Almost no one self-identifies as a Communist anymore, and just look how quickly the world has moved on acceptance of Gays. Change happens)

And hopefully, when that Wish Seller next comes along, the voting majority will know the correct response:



2 thoughts on “What do you want?

  1. I don’t share your optimism. Our liberal civilization has existed for a few hundred years, total. Subsistence, disorder and tyranny, on the other hand, existed for millennia prior. A physicist would say that civilization has “low entropy”. That suggests it’s far easier to tear down than build back up again.

    1. I don’t disagree with either of those assessments, but I don’t rate the chance of losing effective governance any higher than the chance of losing the ability to forge decent steel. It’s possible, as the fall of Rome showed – but likely? No.

      First of all, knowledge has a way of being retained in even the worst of circumstances. The loss of technology after the fall of Rome was the exception, but generally once things are learned they stay learned. Even China after the 14th C. only stagnated, not regressed.

      Further, people know what they like and want. They’re capable of looking around and saying “Hey, that guy over there has something nice that I would like to have.” And even the less sophisticated ones can say “Dude, the USSR tried Communism and it didn’t work. Even the Chinese have given up on that.”

      Those of us with an above-average IQ can often be discouraged by having a conversation with the average voter. But do not give in to despair! I’m setting the bar fairly low, such that even the average voter can make it. Europe and America created broad spectrum wealth and prosperity, and recently Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have shown that the process is generally applicable.

      There’s still learning to do. Some people still don’t appreciate the role of culture, human creativity, and virtue in broad spectrum prosperity, but I believe the ongoing good results from the cultures that “get it” and the ongoing trial and error from the cultures that “want it” will eventually, over time, make these truths universally acknowledged.

      About the only thing that could put a stop to this process at this point would be a meteor or EMP War.

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