The Mountain and the Molehill

The best thing about 2020 is that if you don’t know where your close friends, family and colle
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  1. As always, smart stuff, smartly written. My only quibble is that, while I agree “the street” won’t bring down the rule of law or capitalism directly, by moving the narrative and the political positions and platform of the mainstream democrats (oh, say, like I’m-for-breaking-the-filibuster-now Biden), “the street” is having a much bigger philosophical impact than the visible stuff it does. Ideas that were fringe are now mainstream and the totally crazy ones are only fringe now. Oh, and the mainstream democratic ones of the Clinton era - they now get you cancelled.

    As to Trump and TikTok, if the republicans have any core values left, they will rise up and denounce that with everything they have as you are spot on - it is the rule of man, not the rule of law. But remember, it is also the next step of Elizabeth Warren’s (and Obama’s) “you didn’t build that,” which is just an intellectual (and less-obviously-direct) way of laying the ground work for stealing private property/businesses and cooping for the government the value of your work and ownership rights. Trump is smash mouth; the democrats use white-paper cover, but both want the same thing - a big cut of the private sector’s action.

  2. “Today the US central bank is like the modern Siberia for financial assets that do not adhere to the central planners’ idea of price. The Soviets sent intellectuals and artists to remote parts of Siberia when their beliefs conflicted with Marxist ideology. Similarly, the forced settlement of assets within the confines of the Central Bank is nothing more than internal exile based on criteria arbitrarily decided upon by a central committee of unelected people who probably have a political agenda. They will tell you it’s all for the good of the people, and the quieting of the sensory organs of capitalism is consistent with the mood of the gods.” Back In The USSR

  3. Yup. Beautifully put, as always, Rusty. I am reminded of some of Orlov’s descriptions of the collapse of the USSR in the 90s - when the rule of law broke down, mafia-style bosses took over. They provided a brutal and extremely self-serving form of order to replace that (ok, flawed, but still broad-based) rule of law. This is gradually being repaired (by Russian standards if not “western”) but it’s a slow and difficult process. I hope the west can either stop the process or repair it, but it’s been going on for quite awhile now, under “white paper cover”, as Mark said, and now “Smash Mouth” has it in hand. Howl on, friends…

  4. As always well written Rusty - I do indeed love your work. I wish I had it in me to be outraged this was the next logical step and a long time coming.

    I was outraged when the banks were forced to take loans and pay interest to the Fed’s so none of us would really know who was in trouble. I was outraged when the bond holders at GM had half of their claims taken away and given to the UAW as a reward for their support in the 2008 election. I was outraged when all semblance of price discovery was removed from IG credit markets. I was outraged when our first amendment rights to worship and assemble were trampled by a bunch of Governors ,while those same rights were respected , by the same Governors when “their constituents” were the ones doing the assembling—-and even looting and rioting in a consequence free environment. Last week an armed militia came to Louisville (about 250) and their leader publicly said that if the AG of our state did not do what they wanted —they will return in 4 weeks and “burn this mother fucker down” I was outraged that none of the local media or leaders saw this as a terroristic threat.

    So Trump wants Microsoft to pay the Govt for a deal he’s gonna approve while Amazon pays nothing while making billions —-should it outrage me —-yes it should, but I’m too tired.

    Roger Waters said - “it’s just another brick in the wall” That’s what it is to me —-the next logical step in the systematic destruction of the rule of law and property rights. Free Market Capitalism , on the other hand , has been dead for years.

  5. “Trump is smash mouth; the democrats use white-paper cover, but both want the same thing – a big cut of the private sector’s action” . - absolutely right !

  6. Great analysis Rusty. I’m curious, what was it like writing this piece? Are you still self-identifying as a conservative to the point where it was an extremely uncomfortable exercise, or was it a little more gleeful? See “I can tolerate anything but the outgroup” if you haven’t already, for an example.

    If you’re like me, then you’re a little more gray tribe than red tribe, and there wasn’t much discomfort involved in your argument.

  7. People think I’m being histrionic when I make this comparison - but issues of naked extortion and corrupt quid pro quo’s aside (for just a moment, I’ll circle back…as if there were things more important than that mountain…) —

    The forced divestment of TikTok looks to me like the nationalization of oil companies in the 20th century by former colonies. So two things:

    1. Semiconductors as “spice” (uhhh obviously Ben Hunt’s construction) — information and computation as the new “oil” for the Information Age seems to hold-up well here, our data is a resource we don’t want exploited by hostile, extractive, mercantilist powers.

    2. Just as the nationalized oil companies became the chief wellsprings of corruption and government looting in those countries, the room for corruption in the government-backed appropriation of corporations (and manipulation of the free activities of domestic corporations) appears to be obvious.

    The assaults on the rule of law and capitalism — our potential slide into kleptocratic fascism-lite — will look different now than they did in the past. Here specifically, the looming political-economic abomination looks like a combination of left-wing nationalist-populism (“take back control of our resources!”) and good ol’ neo-fascism/mafia-statism (“corporations can do what they like, as long as it is within the bounds of the interests of our nation, and as long as they do the state a favor when called-upon.”)

    I realize my descriptions of those two systems was not the most verbally elegant, so think: our government has the seed of modern Russia within it (nationalized oil industry as a source of massive corruption along with the subordination of corporations to the state) - obviously not the same level, but a kind of imitation of it.

    In my ever-humble opinion, the analogy between oil and data is a good comparison for modern resource-based conflict and strategy.

    “Why do you rob banks?”

    • “That’s where the money is.” (Or close to that quote)

    Why oil for corruption? It’s a huge source of wealth that also has nationalist and populist implications which can be exploited.

    Why tech for corruption? It’s a huge source of wealth that also has nationalist and populist implications which can be exploited.

    That’s my thesis anyway.

  8. Focus? We all know what a Karen is. How about an Otto (Kevin Kline - A Fish Called Wanda)? “Can your run that middle part past me again?”. I have taken to calling this World War Zzzzzzzzz ( with apologies to MB). Overall cognitive function of general population way off and that makes for low hanging fruit for those that would do us harm.

  9. I wish I could remember where I read this, but the source is long forgotten.

    A man rode on a commuter train and encountered two groups of teens. Group one was thuggish, gang-like. They seemed menacing to people his age. Group two was clearly upper class, private school types, who were acerbic and sarcastic to everyone. They denigrated people they encountered, but never threatened anyone physically.

    The man concluded that group two was to be feared the most because their privilege would give them more influence and a wider impact on society. He called them the most dangerous teens in America.

    Your article reminds me that story. Those teenagers grew up.

  10. Excellent note Rusty.
    Once again, ET helps me to think

  11. I still really do consider myself a conservative, and I find a lot of this deeply uncomfortable.

  12. Mark, I don’t disagree that they matter in the way you describe, and I have zero problem with anyone pointing those things out as bad things. I just think it matters that the scale of our national conversation about these things is turned on its head. Beam and mote, etc.

  13. Thanks Rusty - I greatly appreciate what you and Ben do for the pack. Sometimes it is almost paralyzing, the sheer quantity of information that I have to filter for consumption. You both do a great job at muting the voices down to what is important, and I look forward to every essay.

  14. Greetings from the People’s Republic of Oregon where you can have pot delivered to your home but aren’t allowed to pump your own gasoline.

    Your analysis on the TikTok affair was interesting. It reminds me of how “moral hazard” continues to be subverted. Using any app or social media service means you’re giving its owners the right to use your data in all kinds of ways that you may or may not like. But you accepted this when downloaded it and started using it. If you didn’t think about this first you are naïve. If you allowed your child to do this on their phone with TikTok, you certainly didn’t think through the potential risks. But you have no right to be outraged or alarmed.

    The outrage therefore is humorous. Americans are alarmed at how a Chinese-owned app might use their data. Duh. The solution is not to pervert market forces to remedy the situation. The solution is to either choose not to use TikTok or use a competing service that isn’t Chinese-owned. And if there isn’t one that is Chinese-owned, maybe this would give impetus to an American company to start a competing product that doesn’t risk users’ data being shared by the Chinese authorities. Isn’t that how markets are supposed to work? And if there’s no market demand for a TikTok competitor and you don’t want to risk your data being abused by the Chinese State, then you can choose not to use the product. 

  15. Rusty - Wonderful. I’ve spent much of the past month arguing with family about political issues and have been branded as a leftist because I don’t support Trump, as if its a binary issue and as if he’s in any way conservative. Ultimately I’ve realized Trumpism and “conservative media” is a religion. Sadly, it’s not in service to political ideals but ad revenue. However, I hold out hope that wisdom and reason will prevail. As such, I’ve sent this piece to a few of those family members. Keep up the great work!

  16. Hi me again. I am referencing both articles; Deep Sociopathy and The Mountain and the Molehill as a “Data Point”… I am not intelligent enough yet, maybe another life, to put these issues into a data set of numbers but if there is anybody out there who is capable of doing it; I’m curious, would it follow “Benford’s Law”? A volcanologist applied volcano’s around the globe to “Benford’s Law” and these volcano’s followed the curve. Speaking to the volcanologist, he wasn’t surprised saying that you must always look for the simplest answers. And when asked he said that it is just earth maintaining balance. Not exerting any more power than necessary to maintain this natural force. So I am curious, these issues around the globe, if graphed, would they follow “Benford’s Law”. If “Yes” do we need to worry ? If “No” then I think we would have valid reason to worry.

    When social media was graphed, the “Bots” were instantly identified :slight_smile:


  17. I believe this is an area of tension between opposition to “nudging” and general principles of harm reduction. Pure Libertarianism has a hard time dealing with the power of corporations, which may also be restricting the liberty of individuals in addition to the state.

    I think that, essentially, it’s proven that many people will choose things that are harmful to themselves - to the point of being harmful to society as a whole because corporations make addictive products. We have an entire ecosystem of services, laws, and institutions that try to ameliorate the massive social harm caused by drug addiction. Using social media does not rise to the level a drug addiction, I don’t think, but in the same way the harms that arise from their use become socialized. If you believe that “the right to swing your fist ends where the next man’s nose begins,” then products like TikTok blur the boundary between fist and nose.

    I’m not sure there is a simple or systematic solution to this problem that is completely consistent with principles of individual liberty, but to just say that you should allow market forces to deal with the problem is to cede the health of the community to foreign actors or corporations, in my opinion.

  18. Eric - I appreciate that perspective. I had not considered that and it’s food for thought. I’m not a social media user so it’s all a bit foreign to me. Although, this might be considered social media.

  19. I think some people would disagree strongly with my characterization of social media as in the same league, harm-wise, as drugs - and some people would say: the way to deal with ALL of these problems is to enable a truly free market, so I can’t really answer all critiques. But, as I said, I think there is a difficult tension between free market choices and protecting the community as a whole.

    This forum is like addiction-resistant social media: no “likes” for a quick dopamine hit, no “share” function on comments to prove your favor with the authors to others. Just (hopefully) respectful engagement centered around ideas or genuine expressions of enjoyment and gratitude toward the authors’ works.

    Responses like this mean the world to me on the internet, since it can be so tough to respect a stranger with a different viewpoint.

    Thank you

  20. You’re not alone, Rusty. This is a profoundly uncomfortable moment for many of us.

    Thanks for this.

  21. All republics end in dictatorship. Fasten your seatbelt.

  22. terrific write-up.
    I would add for many of those who are still outraged by the protests. Keep in mind - the youth, when they REALLY care about something, are usually right.

    equality in the 1960’s
    Anti-Vietnam in the 1970’s
    Anti-Apartheid in the 1980’s
    Anti-polluters in the 1990’s.
    Anti-Banks 2000’s

    And now they are going after “capitalism”. Are they right again? I’d argue, to a large extent, they are. No, not that all profits are bad, and billionaires shouldn’t exist.
    But instead - look at the cronyism we have seen - that Ben and Rusty keep highlighting. The spread in inequality is not exactly a plus for the capitalism side of the ledger . . .

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