jane jacobs

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs


Jane Jacobs’ Systems of Survival: The Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics identified two primary syndromes, the meme-complexes (reinforcing rule sets) prevalent in human society: the Guardian Syndrome of hierarchical, honor-based organizations like the military and government, and the Commercial Syndrome, practiced in trade, industry, and science.

These syndromes evolved with humanity, from hunter-gatherer warrior bands to feudal knights and modern armies, or from Phoenician traders to Venetian financiers and finally the corporations of today. The book is a fun and easy read, and I’d highly recommend it for the insight it gives to many modern political issues. Here are the moral rules for each syndrome:

Moral Precepts

Guardian Syndrome

Commerce Syndrome

  • Shun trading
  • Exert prowess
  • Be obedient and disciplined
  • Adhere to tradition
  • Respect hierarchy
  • Be loyal
  • Take vengeance
  • Deceive for the sake of the task
  • Make rich use of leisure
  • Be ostentatious
  • Dispense largesse
  • Be exclusive
  • Show fortitude
  • Be fatalistic
  • Treasure honor
  • Shun force
  • Compete
  • Be efficient
  • Be open to inventiveness and novelty
  • Use initiative and enterprise
  • Come to voluntary agreements
  • Respect contracts
  • Dissent for the sake of the task
  • Be industrious
  • Be thrifty
  • Invest for productive purposes
  • Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
  • Promote comfort and convenience
  • Be optimistic
  • Be honest

For a roving band of warriors competing with enemies for territory, the Guardian Syndrome is appropriate. Governments, as the descendants of the ruling structures that evolved when those warrior bands settled in to defend and protect a civilian population, have many of the same features — a monopoly on the use of force, a need to defend against external enemies, and a requirement of secrecy and distrust of outsiders. But another part of their role is largesse — distributing the spoils of war and taxation, valuing courage, and defending the weak.

Commerce requires a different set of morals — valuing honesty and cooperation to achieve shared goals, trusting others more and valuing a reputation for fair dealing. The common commercial values allowed explorers traveling in lands far from home to trade with villagers despite a lack of common language and the obvious temptations of fraud and theft. Where the highest value of the Guardian class is winning with honor, the Commercial class aimed for mutual benefit and discovery of better products and ways of doing things.

The prosperity of the modern world developed out of runaway Commerce Syndrome successes, but the older, more feudal Guardian values are still important to proper functioning of states and their military and intelligence arms.

Each syndrome evolved to work well in its own sphere, and mixing them or involving one syndrome where the other should be used causes systemic corruption, as when Guardian-class government tries to direct all commerce (as in the dead USSR or today’s Venezuela), or commercial values intrude into governance (bribery of officials, “crony capitalist” use of government influence to protect and extend commercial monopolies.) Many of today’s issues come out of ‘monstrous hybrids,” in Jacobs’ term, which combine the two syndromes to create corrupt and dysfunctional organizations.

One example of a monstrous hybrid is the modern too-big-to-fail bank, so heavily regulated that its every move is controlled by government authorities while its managers are paid more in stock and bonuses than a thousand of its low-level workers. It has become nearly impossible to start a new bank, and the smaller ones are disappearing as compliance grows more difficult and expensive. Without fresh competition and at the mercy of politicians, banks now pay heavy tribute to politicians while getting major subsidies from the Federal Reserve in the form of no-interest loans. Their customers continue to pay more in charges while getting no interest on deposits.

Another example-in-the-making is the US military branches, long insulated from politics but now being pressured to adopt the values of civilian employers and the Civil Service. That will be the topic of my next few posts.

More reading on other topics:

The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion

Attorneys General Holder and Lynch

Attorneys General Holder and Lynch

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We’re all familiar with the evil of bribery, in which someone pays a civil servant for favorable handling of a government decision. The briber gains profits that are some multiple of the bribe at the expense of the public; the bribed official’s malfeasance betrays the people who pay his salary.

Since the Code of Hammurabi, government officials have been punished for taking bribes or dealing in property related to their official decisions. In The Republic, Plato suggested government officials live communally without the temptations of private property to insulate their decisions from the temptations of personal gain. In Systems of Survival, Jane Jacobs wrote about systemic corruption when what she called the Guardian Syndrome (appropriate memes for governing and military classes) was corrupted by Commercial Syndrome considerations — and vice-versa. It is corruption if commercial actors use bribes to gain special favors at the expense of competitors and the public, and it is also corruption if government officials use their decisionmaking and spending power to influence private business or voters to give them an advantage over political opponents. Both forms of corruption break down accountability and result in a net loss in fairness and efficiency, leading to less dynamic public and private spheres. And the endpoint of such corruption in a country is stagnation, weakness, and defeat by an external enemy.

Outright bribery is common in developing countries, as the US was before the turn of the century. A less direct form of bribe which is harder to detect is campaign contributions for access and favorable handling, still quite common and legal in the US. The influence is not so much a direct payment for a favorable decision as a tendency to favor the interests of the campaign contributor, putting a thumb on the scales weighing the public interest. The modern version has an officeholder accepting a large number of contributions from both sides of various issues, especially when the officeholder is not a predictable supporter of either side. This bundling of interest-group contributions leaves out citizens who have no trade group or industry representing their interests. This is not ideal, but the commonly-suggested remedy of public campaign financing has the obvious problem of favoring the status quo and whoever decides which candidates deserve public funding. Individual wealthy contributors have provided the seed money for many outsider campaigns for public office, and if private contributions are limited, status quo politicians, with their free access to news media, are much harder to displace.

Another more subtle form of corruption is advertising and PR monies spent by the state at the direction of current officeholders for supposedly public purposes, but which greatly favor their own party or policies. A great recent example of this is the advertising for Obamacare and its insurance exchanges, and the “Navigators” hired to assist applicants in using the unusable Healthcare.gov web site. From the Kaiser survey, “More than 4,400 Assister Programs, employing more than 28,000 full-time-equivalent staff and volunteers, helped an estimated 10.6 million people during the first Open Enrollment period.” Doing the math, this means each navigator served about two people a day, and (especially at first) most of the time spent went to staring at nonfunctional screens and talking about the problems with the system. Navigators were hired with little concern for knowledge or trustworthiness, and information about becoming a navigator was spread via the network of “community activist” organizations that happened to reach out to the same sort of people who serve as political foot soldiers for Democratic campaigns. ACA implementation spent billions of dollars on politically-connected contractors for failed systems and hiring of connected patronage employees. The result was enormous waste and failure of the new systems, but with the politically-desirable side-effect of direct government-funded contact between poor citizens and activists for Democratic causes. This may have backfired since the program failed so obviously, but was motivated by the desire to give poor people a benefit while reminding them personally of the party that got it for them.

Because spending for Federal PR offices and advertising is buried as multiple items in each agency’s budget, it is hard to track. The GAO is launching an investigation to try to trace it, with obvious external advertising contracts adding up to $4.7 billion in 2009-2013 fiscal years:

The 2014 CRS report found it difficult to determine details on federal agencies’ advertising spending. There is no governmentwide reporting standard, CRS said, nor is there a common definition of what constitutes advertising. Additionally, agencies have “great discretion” to budget their in-house PR. Agencies are prohibited from spending money on “publicity or propaganda” not specifically authorized by Congress, but CRS found the lack of a firm definition of advertising has led to “few governmentwide restrictions” on the practice.

Government-funded PR offices send out press releases which end up as stories in the media, which typically don’t question the content — a “government source” is seen as credible. This allows slanted views of science, economics, and political issues to be presented as neutral fact with apparent consensus support — a typical press release from a government agency can result in dozens or hundreds of stories repeating the same information, and most media outlets won’t seek out any opposing viewpoints.

This means the party holding the executive branch can try to mold the views of the citizenry using propaganda funded by the citizens’ own tax money. When the executive branch is held by progressives who reinforce the generally government-favoring slant of the federal civil service employees, the depth of the disinformation provided increases. This is systemic corruption, and creates a powerful positive feedback loop toward larger government and shrinking private freedoms. Progressive politicians believe this is all to the good — because they know what is best for everyone and most citizens choose wrongly unless guided by the state and its social-working employees, it is totally legitimate for the state to enlighten its voters by programming their malleable minds with the correct ideas so that they will vote for the correct politicians, who happen to be them.

Overlawyered reports on a WSJ story (behind a paywall, unfortunately) discussing the fate of the $110 billion in fines paid by mortgage banks to settle with the Justice Dept.:

Following the 2008 crash, government enforcement action extracted $110 billion from lenders and other players over a variety of alleged sins relating to the rise and collapse of the mortgage bubble. Where did it go? Governments held on to a lot of it, a lot went to the government-sponsored Fannie and Freddie mortgage enterprises, favored “housing-related community groups” got some, some went to homeowners with mortgage struggles or to new low-interest loans. In New York, money is going to rebuild the Tappan Zee bridge and “the annual state fair is using bank-settlement money to build a new horse barn and stables.” But no one has kept track of where a lot of the money went, there being no overall effort to account for it.

Kimberly Strassel in the WSJ of 12/3/2015 commented on the phenomenon of fines extracted by Justice Dept. threats going to groups supporting the Democratic party:

Republicans talk often about using the “power of the purse” to rein in a lawless Obama administration. If they mean it, they ought to use their year-end spending bill to stop a textbook case of outrageous executive overreach.

This scandal comes courtesy of the Justice Department, which for 16 months has engaged in a scheme to undermine Congress’s spending authority by independently transferring dollars to President Obama’s political allies. The department is in the process of funneling more than half-a-billion dollars to liberal activist groups, at least some of which will actively support Democrats in the coming election.

It works likes this: The Justice Department prosecutes cases against supposed corporate bad actors. Those companies agree to settlements that include financial penalties. Then Justice mandates that at least some of that penalty money be paid in the form of “donations” to nonprofits that supposedly aid consumers and bolster neighborhoods.

The Justice Department maintains a list of government-approved nonprofit beneficiaries. And surprise, surprise: Many of them are liberal activist groups. The National Council of La Raza. The National Urban League. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition. NeighborWorks America (which awards grants to left-leaning community organization groups, and has been compared with Acorn).

This strategy kicked off with the $13 billion J.P. Morgan settlement in late 2013, though in that case the bank was simply offered credit for donations to nonprofits. That changed with the Citigroup and Bank of America settlements, which outright required $150 million in donations. The BofA agreement contains a provision that potentially tees up nonprofit groups for another $490 million. Several smaller settlements follow the same mold.

To further induce companies to go the donation route, Justice considers these handouts to be worth “double credit” against penalty obligations. So while direct forms of victim relief are still counted dollar-for-dollar, a $500,000 donation by BofA to La Raza takes at least $1 million off the company’s bill.

The purpose of financial penalties is to punish, and to provide restitution to real victims. The Justice Department would make the case that this money is flowing to groups that aid the targets of supposed banking abuse, such as homeowners. But that assumes the work these groups do is targeted at actual victims—which it isn’t. It assumes that the work these groups do in housing is nonpartisan—which it isn’t. And it ignores that money is fungible. Every dollar banks donate to the housing arms of the Urban League or La Raza is a dollar those groups can free up to wage an assault on voter ID laws, or to help out Democrats.

This kind of enforced donation to “public service” organizations that just happen to support the ruling party’s goals is correctly discouraged by Justice Dept. guidelines as possibly creating the perception of a conflict of interest. Not only does this improperly divert money which should have been returned to the customers of the banks, it appears to encourage the Justice Dept. to spend effort on industry-wide feints at prosecution of private companies regardless of actual guilt who are thereby extorted into paying huge fines. The businesses find it cheaper to pay the extortion money, and actual justice in the form of discovery and public knowledge of any provable violations of the law that may have occurred is never achieved. The public interest was not served and there is no accountability for any of the bad actors: those inside the banks, in the ratings agencies, or in the government regulatory agencies themselves. Unresolved, there is no clarity on what reforms might help avoid recurrence. And the President builds a bigger propaganda machine to mislead the voters and retain power for his party.

Tl;dr version: The banks were rescued (whether they needed it or not) and then propped up to earn big profits by Fed actions loaning them money at close to zero rates. The DoJ takes a cut from the banks and distributes the booty to favored groups and everyone goes back to business as usual. No banker suffers. My view is that the failures were systemic and no criminal activity could ever be found… the proper punishment should have been some bankruptcies. But that route had “insufficient opportunities for graft.”


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

The Curriculum of Freedom

The Library

The Library

I’ve put up a permanent page with suggested readings on how to think about economic and political questions. Just a start so far:

While I went to some great schools like MIT, I was primarily self-educated. Anyone can pick up the ability to think through problems independently and do the research needed on the Internet, but it helps to have a base of organized knowledge to give yourself a head start on your individual contribution to the world’s knowledge. A great book on a subject area will allow you to quickly reach the level of understanding needed to start your own research; then a bit of reading on the more recent research results available online will catch you up to the current edge of the field and where you can contribute.

If you or someone you love want to have a deeper understanding of how the world works, these books are a great way to start. I’ve read all of them and guarantee that reading them will boost your understanding of what you may have learned in school, where textbooks are watered-down, homogenized committee efforts and subject to political bias.

Many of these authors are prolific and have written more than one book amplifying their thoughts. If one turns you on to a topic, you may want to go on and read others they’ve written. I’ll be filling in my take on each book later, but for now you can read the Amazon description to get an idea.