To Save Lives, We Need More Conflicts. And a Strong Economy Needs More Failure.
By Joe Jarvis - November 30, 2018

How could more conflicts be a good thing?

Well, imagine 50 wars among city-states that each kill 30,000. That is a staggering 1.5 million deaths.

Or one war among nation-states, say World War II, which killed an estimated 60 million people.

Call me crazy, but I’ll take more conflicts if it means fewer deaths overall.

And according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile, smaller governments resembling city-states produce overall more peaceful results for society. Even when there are more conflicts, they claim fewer total lives than years of buildup to explosive large wars.

Or consider that the Soviet Union post-World War II was relatively peaceful towards other nation-states… while Stalin murdered millions and millions of Soviet citizens.

“Stalin could not have existed in a municipality.”

Small is beautiful in so many other ways. Take for now that the small–in the aggregate that is, a collection of small units–is more antifragile than the large.

This means that the overall group is more likely to survive if it is made up of smaller units. And the units which survive will be better for withstanding the tests.

Even in the Soviet Union, this proved true. For instance, under centralized control, Stalin stole the food of the entire nation of Ukraine, orchestrating a famine which starved somewhere around 6 million people.

But most of the Soviet Union did not starve, because food production remained relatively decentralized. Each village produced much of the food it needed, so they were less affected by the horribly inefficient food distribution of the Soviet centralized state. And cities which did not produce their own food fared much worse.

The problem is that by creating bureaucracies, we put civil servants in a position to make decisions based on abstract and theoretical matters, based on the illusion that they will be making them in a rational accountable way.

Also consider that lobbyists, this annoying race of lobbyists, cannot exist in a municipality or small region.

The Europeans, thanks to the centralization of some power with the European Commission in Brussels, are quickly discovering the existence of these mutants coming to manipulate democracy for the sake of some large corporation.

By influencing one single decision or regulation in Brussels, a single lobbyist gets a large bang. It is a much larger payoff at low cost than with municipalities which would require armies of lobbyists trying to convince people while embedded in their communities.

The bottom line is that many small distributed units are much more capable of adapting to tumultuous events than large centralized ones.

A tribe or a city-state always had the possibility of being wiped off the face of the planet. But now the scale has grown, and with nuclear weapons, the entire Earth population could vanish in an instant.

The United States is the perfect example. All 320 million of us are vulnerable to a crashing economy because we are under the control of Washington DC.

But if power were distributed among the 50 states, a collapsing currency, housing, or stock market would be felt hardest in one particular region, and the rest would respond in various ways that could cushion the blow.

Some states would fail, but the ones that survived would be better for it. And these would remain options for residents of failing states to choose.

In the end, the best policies would emerge, because the decisions were not centralized with the federal government or the federal reserve.

But as it stands, we will all be brought down with the sinking centralized ship, because we have one currency, one board setting interest rates for the entire nation, one man implementing tariffs, one legislature digging ever deeper into debt.

The story of the nation-state is that of the concentration and magnification of human errors. Modernity starts with a state monopoly on violence and ends with a state’s monopoly on fiscal irresponsibility.

When dead wood accumulates in forests, absent fires, it only builds and builds for the big one. And then it cannot be contained and causes much more damage compared to many small fires.

And so it is in political and financial systems.

Depressions, hyper-inflation, stock market crashes, bank failures, and national debt defaults are going to happen.

Better to make them isolated events affecting only small nations or city-states, than to bring down a quarter of the global economy.

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