Saturday, January 18, 2014

4B

Pieter Hintjens

Here is my working hypothesis about the emergence of representative government, democracy, whatever you call it. Rule by the people, for the people, in the true interests of the people [..].

I'll call this the 4B Hypothesis. Society is divided into Bandits (those who specialize in stealing from others), Beggars (those who specialize in getting resources without work), Bureaucrats (those who specialize in order), and Bakers (those who specialize in working hard and making stuff everyone else needs). Of course it's more complex than this, but it's a rough division between the four Bs [..].

Depending on various factors, one or other of the Bs will be in charge, aided by one or more of the other. By default, the bandits and the bureaucrats team up on the bakers, and ignore the beggars, who live in abject poverty. The only law is power and family. When the bakers -- who after all feed everyone -- begin to accumulate wealth and power, they slowly recruit the beggars and the bureaucrats into their ranks, and beat the bandits into a corner. As the bakers (the commercial middle class) get more power, they bring into existence what we'd consider the fabric of a modern state: stable currency, fair courts, representative government, commercial law, universal education, universal health, roads, water and food for all, housing for all, policing, and so on.

Let's work through the various possible states of society, depending who's in charge, and map them to current societies:

* Bandits: Somalia.
* Bandits and beggars: North Korea.
* Bandits and bureaucrats: Syria.
* Bandits and bakers: Russia.
* Bandits, beggars, and bureaucrats: Zimbabwe.
* Bandits, bureaucrats, and bakers: Saudi Arabia.
* Beggars and bureaucrats: Cuba.
* Beggars and bakers: Belgium.
* Beggars, bureaucrats, and bakers: France.
* Bureaucrats and bakers: Switzerland.

The bakers haven't suddenly proven Darwin wrong and developed genes for altruism. They're acting totally selfishly, but with a very different strategy from the bandits or beggars. The bakers need wealthy clients and stable suppliers. They need scale and growth, which transcends family and tribal ties. They need fair laws and courts to arbitrate, because conflict is bad for business. They need an educated workforce, and they need good infrastructure for transport so they can get their goods to market rapidly and safely. They need security. They need healthy neighbors because disease spreads.

The bakers need all these things because they are good for business. As the bakers and bureaucrats build a better society, the beggars help them, and all but the most inflexible bandits switch strategies and join in the boom.

Societies flip from state to state, as they grow prosperous and develop a wealthy commercial middle class, exhaust resources, enter violent conflict with other societies, and so on. There is no inevitable path, just a set of states and events that push societies from state to state, fairly predictably.

Nothing here is new. Practically the first written text was legal codes dating from 1,700 BC and half of those cover contract law. Currency and banking date from 3,000 to 2,000 BC. Human society has been flipping between the 4B states since the dawn of history [..].

So, as we look at the world, we see [..] the wealthier the society, and the more the bakers and bureaucrats dominate society [..]. Europe gives us a good worked example [..] Europe was particularly rich in commercial middle classes who defended their precious institutions with blood. Over and over, as the bandits tried to gain power, the bakers drove them out. This may sound over-dramatic, but the history of a country like France is basically one of bandits (such as the descendants of Vikings) being driven out by coalitions of bakers and bureaucrats, using beggars as canon fodder. And bearing baguettes, one imagines.

Conflict has been widespread throughout Europe wherever and for as long as there has been any significant population. And systematically, the bakers have won. The last time the bandits were in charge in a European country was when Yugoslavia fell apart and bandits took control of Serbia, and then tried to conquer the rest of the region.

So, Europe's current political models are a direct consequence of these conflicts. We learned, long ago, to look after the beggars and turn them into assets, not liabilities. We learned to create space for the bandits, giving them symbolic power in government. Belgium, my home, has a long history of commercial city states fighting for their independence, and today has seven governments. For me, that's directly related.

Why and how do the bakers win? They need a few key things, but principally, they need freedom, and they need access to markets. When the bandits want to stop the bakers from taking power, their first tool is to block trade. Freedom can mean many things, to philosophers, but pragmatically what it means is the ability to do interesting things with other people. And if you're a baker, that means buy from them and sell to them, without undue taxes, tolls, delays, or theft.