A landscape of bewildering contradictions

Folks, I have to apologize to anyone who took the rotary system seriously. If you’re already in the process of deploying the technology (illegally, of course, since it is my property), I’ll have to ask you to stop. As UR’s astute comment brigade quickly noticed, the idea is pure satire.

In case it wasn’t obvious, the “rotary system” is a corporate rebranding of democracy, specifically the version of it used by the US Federal Government (fondly known as Fedco). “Rotors” are politicians, “stators” are civil servants.

As one commenter wrote: “this would seem to state that our government was already privatized! And what a poor result!”

Precisely.

My point is that Fedco, today, is a corporation. The English word “corporation” just means an organization with a formal name and a legal identity. All nation-states are corporations. The world of 2007 is an anarcho-libertarian paradise – exactly as Peter Leeson describes.

Of course, an orthodox libertarian would not agree. In Murray Rothbard’s model, the relationship between Fedco and central North America is nothing like the relationship between Apple and 1 Infinite Loop, because Apple has a chain of title leading back to some grizzled prospector who “mixed his labor” with the great land of Cupertino.

I have not personally investigated Apple’s title. So perhaps this is true. As a formalist, though, my theory of property is not ethical, but instrumental. There is an interesting homology between Rawlsian socialists and libertarians: both have a moral calculus which tells them who should own what. I suspect this reflects shared Christian roots.

For a formalist, Fedco owns central North America because it does own it. The description is factual, not normative. Fedco maintains exclusive and unchallenged possession and control. No one on the premises can defy the orders of Fedco’s Inspection Council – excuse me, Supreme Court. We are all of us customers in Fedco’s big corporate Disneyland.

In fact, given the US’s insistence on taxing its citizens wherever they live in the world, one can make a good argument that Americans are not just Fedco’s customers, but also its serfs. (The argument fails, though, because Americans can renounce their citizenship.)

This transformation is not a thought-experiment. It’s an alternate interpretation of reality. Redefining the US as “Fedco,” or the Supreme Court as its “Inspection Council,” or its citizens as “customers,” does not change the facts at all. Just as chemistry is a special case of physics and biology is a special case of chemistry, a government is a special case of a corporation.

Ergo, no one can construct an ethical system in which this minor rebranding changes the moral valence of actors or actions. If Fedco is evil, the US is evil. If the US is good, Fedco is good. And the same goes for all deeds of all its employees.

What’s strange, however, is that this distinction between private and public, corporation and government, which is no more than the difference between a general case and a special case, seems to have a remarkable impact on management techniques. Since biology obeys the laws of chemistry and chemistry obeys the laws of physics, I find this quite unusual.

In my last post I claimed that the rotary system, as described, will result in optimal customer service. Or at least, better customer service than present corporate governance, which gives the customer no voice at all in selecting managers.

Now, this claim is either true, or it ain’t.

If it’s true, clearly I am the great management guru of all time. Taylor, Deming, Drucker, these men are punks. Two-bit lip-flappers, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. As the rotary system is adopted, I will conduct packed seminars across corporate America. Hardened regional vice-presidents will break down and cry. Marketing chicks in tight sweaters will whisper suggestively and slip me their room numbers as I autograph their books with broad, confident strokes of the pen.

Unfortunately, if I am this organizational savant, my actual opinion – that the “rotary system” is a hideous and nonsensical disaster, a Kafkaesque monstrosity which I wouldn’t wish on my most dangerous competitor – must count for something. So we arrive at the same place.

I think almost anyone who’s worked at any sort of corporation, whether it makes software, socks, or sadomasochist sex videos, would agree with me that the rotary system would not improve customer service. Quite the contrary. It would be a bizarre, bureaucratic hell, profoundly ineffective and absurd.

But when we put on our magic citizen glasses, and consider not the rotary system as a form of corporate governance, but democracy as a form of government, we see another reality.

We realize that democracy is in fact the best form of government. (Or, as per Churchill, “the worst, except for all the others” – a very Churchillian way of saying “the best.”) That is, democracy provides the best customer service. There is no other way to judge a form of government – surely what matters is what the government does, not who does it or why.

In fact, many Americans feel so strongly about this proposition, and have for many years, that they are willing, even happy and proud, to fight and die while invading other countries to bring them the joys of the rotary system. Excuse me, democracy.

So much for Total Quality Management! Would even “Neutron Jack” himself take a bullet for Six Sigma? Did Taylor drive past IEDs on the way to his time-and-motion studies?

Meanwhile, keeping our magic citizen glasses on, when we look at the perfectly normal, if not uniformly perfect, model of corporate governance that provides excellent customer service in companies large and small, American, Australian and Albanian, makers of software, socks, and sadomasochist sex videos – the model in which the shareholders elect a board, the board chooses a CEO, and the CEO tries to make (and not make up) the quarterly numbers – we notice that this system is, in fact, evil.

More precisely, shareholder governance is a form of oligarchical plutocratic dictatorship. Just as red-blooded Americans have fought for democracy, they have fought against dictatorship. And all parties, left and right, approve. Americans today may quarrel about the war on Iraq, but they agree about the war on Japan, and both wars on Germany.

So when we take the glasses off, we see that evil becomes good. And good becomes, at the very least, ridiculous inefficiency and bureaucracy. Slip the glasses back on and the good is evil again, and inefficiency and bureaucracy are motherhood and apple pie. It is all very confusing! Sometimes I just want to sit in the corner and cry.

If I can pull this back together, however, we have two plausible hypotheses.

Hypothesis A is that the actual business of government is so different from all other industries that it demands a completely different theory of management. The special case is actually special. “Customer-driven positional rotation,” while absurd in nonsovereign corporations, is essential in sovereign ones.

Hypothesis B is that “democracy” is just another cult of the state, older, subtler and eventually more successful than its upstart 20th-century competitors. We all believe in it not because it is good and sweet and true, but just because we were brainwashed in third grade. Rotation in office has nothing at all to do with good government, and what we’ve been worshipping isn’t even a golden calf, but an ancient mummified pig, filled with lead and spray-painted yellow.

Both of these strike me as perfectly fair conclusions. And they are certainly mutually exclusive.

Are there any Bayesians in the house? Diligent readers of Overcoming Bias? Here’s your chance to overcome some big-time bias. Give me a rational derivation of Pr(A) or Pr(B), and I’ll take back everything bad I’ve ever said about Eliezer Yudkowsky.

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