A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Tired: Amazon warehouse work is worse than being an Uber Driver. Hired: Yeah, but we should still complain about them equally


Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain is clearly intended as a 21st-century version of The Road to Wigan Pier. James Bloodworth spends six months around the country working in various low-paid occupations and providing observations and reflections from his experiences and his conversations with the people he met during the journey.

The book is divided into four sections, each covering one stage of his journey; they are neatly ordered from best to worst. As the deadline for manuscript submission creeps closer (the final section contains multiple references to him scrabbling to get this book finished on time) the quality of the prose deteriorates massively: the first section is a fizzing cocktail of inventive similes, well-chosen nods to other works, and actual substantive content, whereas the final section is poorly paced and utterly predictable. Moreover, it's not hard to notice that as his employers become more and more reasonable, his raging against them barely lets up so that the justified fury of the first section (spent working in an Amazon warehouse in Rugeley) is scarcely different from his pathetic whining about Uber in the fourth section.

The first section is also the most balanced in terms of the presentation of the people Bloodworth meets. He's clearly happier telling the story of a working-class colleague expressing support for her transgender friend than reporting on tensions between people of British descent and eastern European immigrants, but he does mention both. It is the section of the book most focused upon what he actually saw, rather than upon his personal reaction to circumstances. These circumstances are indeed grim: the job is physically exhausting, the pay (which comes not from Amazon but through an agency) is unreliable and frequently arrives late, and the bosses have considerable power to make the lives of more menial employees hell. Outside work, his flat is also pretty bad (although this is perhaps connected to the fact of him moving around the country so frequently: my own experience is that the quality of landlords varies massively, so it's easy to end up with a bad one when you first move somewhere but given time you're likely to find somewhere better.)

The second section is set in Blackpool, where he is engaged by a home care provider. A fair bit of this section is taken up by how terrible of a place Blackpool has become, and how unpleasant people get when drunk. This section also provided the only complaint in the book which was genuinely new to me: that the requirement for care providers to submit to background checks creates massive delays to starting, in particular because local police forces - who have to contribute to these - do not have the resources to respond to requests for information in an adequate time frame.

The third account was the most familiar to me, being centred around his work in a call centre. This is distinctly where the book begins to take on a less observational and more preachy tone, and where one starts to have doubts about whether any set of arrangements would be enough to satisfy Bloodworth. It is quite clear that the call centre does all it can to make the monotonous work more pleasant for its workers - certainly much more than the call centre I had the misfortune to spend six months in late 2017 and early 2018 working in - but still Bloodworth complains that the company provides the perks of its own volition, and not as a result of pressure from a trade union. The writing style which effervesced through the earlier chapters has dried up, and the literary references become more tenuous.

Finally, he moves back to London and works a while as an Uber driver. The five chapters here resemble nothing so much as a dull thread from lower case Twitter, with bog-standard leftist talking points presented as though they were utterly original. The most extreme case of this comes when he recycles the more-than-sixty-years-old arguments against grammar schools - a set of institutions which have not existed in most of the country for several decades, and which are highly unlikely to make a revival - and tries to present himself as countercultural. As mentioned above, the pacing of this section is odd, to say the least - of five chapters devoted to this period, two of them take place entirely prior to him giving his first Uber ride. There no attempt at balance or at charitable presentation of those he disagrees with - of the two other Uber drivers he quotes in the book, both are generally negative and one is a person who went so far as to take them to court. There are irrelevant rants about Objectivism and Uber's tax accounting, both of which may be worth critiquing as part of a general leftist program but neither of which has any relevance to the day-to-day lives of Uber's drivers. The best example he can give of a case in which the interests of Uber collide with those of its drivers is that "some of the drivers I spoke to did not believe the algorithm always gave the available job to the closest driver." Leaving aside the possibility that this may be perfectly reasonable - perhaps the app may try to give jobs to drivers which will take them in the direction of their home patch? - surely, if the interests of these parties are "very often antagonistic", surely he can furnish a case which does not rely on personal impressions. He also fails to consider the possibility that restrictions placed by Uber on its drivers may be representing the interests not of itself, but of the other drivers - perhaps because this would undermine his desire to present a narrative of solidarity of the oppressed.

Th value of this book lies entirely in the first 60% or so, which is genuinely excellent: the sociological observations outweigh the politics, and the politics are on occasion genuinely original or enlightening. It's a book I'd encourage you to start reading, but also to give up when you start getting bored - it's really not worth the slog through to the end.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Stability and Equality

A lot of political theorists talk about equality as a requirement for social stability, without having an explicit theory of mobs. This strikes me as a significant absence.

Social stability is not just about avoiding mobs, of course - it's also about keeping crime down, ensuring that pressure for change happens through peaceful channels, etc. But the sight of mobs rampaging through the streets is perhaps the most visible failure of states to maintain public order, and is surely a significant piece of what we ordinarily mean and care about under the banner of "stability".

(This is particularly true for theorists at the more cynical end of constructivism, who may regard society as an implicit compact between the proletariat and bourgeousie, in which the proletariat are granted certain rights and privileges in order to stave off revolution.)

I intend this not as a criticism of egalitarians, but as a debating point within egalitarianism. There are a wide range of factors which may plausibly reduce or exacerbate the risk of social disorder, and which have implications for the kind of egalitarianism one would endorse:

  • The perception that the masses have little to lose from rioting (suggesting a need for broad-based prosperity)
  • The perception that social elite possess large quantities of goods worth taking (suggesting a need for levelling down)
  • The perception that social elites acquired their wealth unfairly (suggesting a need for equality before the law, and possibly more besides)
  • The presence of intelligent and hard-working people who are unable to succeed within established institutions (suggesting a need for equality of opportunity, but not for equality of income)
  • The perception that public authorities are biased against particular groups within society (which could point in a number of directions)
...and so on. Moreover, it matters how these interact. For example, one very simple (and highly dubious) model might suggest that all five of the above factors are individually necessary for riots to start. (An uncontroversial case of this is fire, where fuel, energy, and oxygen are all individually necessary for a fire to start.) In this case, we could focus on abolishing only one of the causes - perhaps whichever was cheapest to treat, or whichever cause we find most distasteful for other reasons.

A more realistic model would seek to quantify inequality of various types, and would give them different weights for their contribution to the frequency of riots starting and to the damage caused by riots. It seems likely, then, that if the achievement of social stability requires state action this is likely to require action against multiple different notions of inequality - we cannot focus on a single form of inequality.

I think this is far more a critique of egalitarian theory rather than of practice. John Rawls may have attempted to reduce equality to "sufficient and equal civil and political liberties, and maximisation of the primary social goods available to the worst-off class within society", but actually-existing democratic states are concerned to reduce economic equality, racial inequality, inequality of access to political institutions, ensure equal treatment before the law...

Speculatively, we might also take this an argument against the idea that inequality is intrinsically bad. Theories of the importance-in-itself of equality tend to end up focussing upon one particular conception of inequality. I think we have here a strong argument that no one conception of inequality is likely to satisfy all of our intuitions about the importance of equality, and ultimately the best evidence for egalitarianism - as with all moral theories - is derived from our intuitions.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Anna Meredith & 59 Productions: Five Telegrams

The First Night of the Proms this year concluded with the premiere of a specially commissioned piece, Five Telegrams by Anna Meredith, themed around WWI communications and accompanied by a lights display. The five movements combined to around 22 minutes; it should be possible to find the video on iPlayer for the next few weeks, and who knows? Maybe it will be on YouTube after that.

The first movement was energetic, with lights that could have come out of a disco; it was fun, but I don't have any particular desire to hear it again. The second was quieter and more contemplative, with lights that were more obviously designed than random, but still leaving it unclear what actual value they were supposed to add beyond pretties. Perhaps there was something deep or interesting going on in the music; if so, I didn't catch it.

The third and fourth movements, however, were much better. The third, themed around the redaction of postcards sent home by WWI soldiers, had a driving flow with fun little lights going on and off in time; there was a rhythmic interplay between plucked strings and some Javanese-sounding percussion, with snatches of woodwind joining in. The fourth, themed around codes, had a similar energy but was much more showy about it.

The final movement was in some ways less enjoyable than the two which had preceded it, but nonetheless had clear musical merit. It portrayed the feelings of people experiencing the armistice, and after a truly wonderful opening with a cello solo built up towards a kind of climax, never clearly in either a major or a minor key: both present, neither overwhelming the other. It died away in what felt like a bit of a disappointment after twenty minutes of music, but was perhaps appropriate to the subject.

Overall I'd be very enthusiastic to hear the last three movements again, and for their sake would sit through the first two.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Dictionaries are No Longer Useful For Argumentation

Historically, one of the most important tools for resolving any philosophical debate has been the dictionary. When you encounter a thorny topic like "do we possess free will?", a healthy first instinct is to consult your nearest or most authoritative dictionary in order to establish exactly what the words "free will" mean.

The reason for this is clear. Such debates typically lead to people attempting to twist the meanings of words in ways that are favourable to their views. The only answer is to outsource the business of defining these words to people who have training and experience in divining the precise meanings of words, and who do not have a dog in the particular philosophical fight.

Unfortunately, this is no longer true. See, for example, this recent tweet from Dictionary.com:
 This is far from an isolated example of the social media teams of online dictionaries intervening in political discourse. See, for instance this article of 10 times Merriam Webster has majorly trolled Donald Trump. The common factor to these cases, of course, is that they are intervening from a progressive standpoint. It's not just the social media teams - the very fact that a dictionary is willing to include SJW terms like "mansplaining" is a sign that they are no longer impartial arbitrators of our shared language.

The consequences of this are clear. We can no longer argue things "by definition" or "by looking up what the dictionary says", because these alleged "definitions" are being rigged. Moreover, any attempts to argue in this way should be taken as signs of braindead progressivism.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Can Prediction Markets Reduce Sexual Harassment?

Recently the @litenitenoah twitter account observed that:
I'm not certain what ethical objections not-Noah has in mind, and suspect that I probably don't care about them. If prediction markets in sexual harassment (henceforth PMSHs) have the effect of reducing sexual harassment, then this is good and it will take a lot to convince me that the markets are overall not worth having.  (There used to be a prediction market in terrorism, which was shut down after outrage from politicians.) That said, it remains an open question as to whether or not PMSHs actually will have this effect.

After a couple of weeks of on-and-off thinking about this, I want to suggest that any PMSH will have both some specific advantages and some specific disadvantages. At present my fear is that the disadvantages win out; however,  The size of these effects will of course depend upon the precise way in which these prediction markets are implemented. One of my aims with this post, then, is to open up discussion about how exactly these markets can be designed so as to maximise the good and minimise the bad.

It is also worth stating, as a preliminary, a couple of limitations on all of this. Firstly, prediction markets are means of aggregating information, but they are not by themselves a means of governance. They can function as part of a government mechanism, as in Robin Hanson's futarchy, but only as a part. What this means is that while PMSHs may give us a reasonable idea of which men are abusers, it does not in itself provide a means towards actual trying men who may be guilty: any trial will require a concrete accusation from a concrete victim. This does not mean PMSHs can't reduce harassment, however, as we will shortly see.

Second, it is typically assumed in discussions of prediction markets that the existence of and odds given by markets do not affect the outcome being predicted. This may well not hold in this case - a victim might be emboldened to speak out against her harasser if the prediction market says he is probably a harasser, or might alternatively conclude that someone else is likely to come forward and there is no need to subject herself to examination in court. The fact that prediction market odds can affect the outcome is not by itself a problem - one might imagine a prediction market for individuals' health and life expectancies, with individuals buying bullishly on themselves so as to have a financial incentive to eat well and exercise - but it can cause problems, which we will discuss later.

Lastly before getting onto the ins and outs: I shall be proceeding on the assumption that prediction markets are basically efficient at aggregating information. If you disagree with this premise, please take that up elsewhere with Robin Hanson or someone, and accept it for the sake of argument in this post.

The case in favour

In my view, there are two large advantages which any PMSH would have, and two other advantages which PMSHs might have depending upon their design and size, and one other advantage whose size is difficult to gauge.

Firstly, there already exist informal whisper-networks, mostly though by no means entirely between women, about which men are not to be trusted or enabled. These networks can enable women to reduce their vulnerability to potential harassers, and can enable concerned third-parties to jump in to head off and stop harassment at an early opportunity. The effect of a prediction market would be to make this information, in an admittedly less-finely-detailed format, available to all concerned. Women should not have to change their behaviour to avoid being harassed, but since in some cases they can having access to PMSHs would give them a better idea of when this is necessary; concerned friends, similarly would be in a better position to know which men ought not to be left alone with young women for significant lengths of time, and which men really are harmless.

Second, harassers are frequently enabled by the institutions in which they work or serve. Larry Nassar, the former medic at Michigan State University and USA Athletics, was able to abuse over 300 women and girls because of silence surrounding his activities which had been going on since the 1990s. Such silences can only be maintained because institutions and the people within them have plausible deniability about whether they were truly aware of abuse going on. PMSHs would remove that deniability: having a high predicted odds of being accused of harassment would be an instant red flag that would make it much harder for institutions to engage in the kind of motivated ignorance which allows abuse to continue over extended periods of time.

An advantage which I think would be real, but can only speak for anecdotally, would accrue to men with prediction markets on their own odds of being accused of harassment. I do not wish to harass women; being of imperfect social intelligence, however, I frequently struggle to identify which behaviours will be taken as playful flirting or everyday platonic compliments, and which will be experienced as threatening by the women at whom they are directed. Of course I try to err on the side of safety, but I can hardly pretend that I have always succeeded here. Having an external evaluation of how threatening I am seen as would allow me to better calibrate my behaviour - was that girl giving of signs of distress that I didn't pick up on and the other guy did, or did he just want her to dance with him instead? Do I need to reduce the amount of alcohol I consume when going out on the town? Certainly I'm not alone in asking myself these questions - more than one male friend has expressed similar concerns in private conversations.

I wish to mention two other ways in which PMSHs might - might - serve to reduce sexual harassment. One of the biggest problems in tackling sexual abuse is that victims are, entirely reasonably, unwilling to publicly accuse their abusers because doing so will mean exposing deeply personal aspects of their lives to strangers. Whether you consider this to be the Patriarchy in action, an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of having a well-functioning justice system, or a bit of both, this is the constraint within which we have to work. PMSHs would allow women to provide information about their abusers anonymously, by buying bets that the abuser will in fact be accused.

The advantage I am most doubtful about - and which I think a PMSH would ultimately have to jettison - is that it may provide some material compensation to women who do expose their abusers. A woman who has bought bets on the man who harassed her may stand to make money by actually going public, which may make her more likely to go public and/or may alleviate her loss of privacy, for example by allowing her to spend a while in a new location without running down her savings.

The case against PMSHs

There are two issues with this, however, which I suspect mean that a well-functioning PMSH would have to prevent women from financially benefiting by accusing men. Firstly, it is not clear that this incentive would only affect cases where abuse actually did occur. This may therefore create cases where men are falsely accused of harassment by women who want to make money out of the accusation.

This is unlikely to be an especially widespread problem - while false accusations of rape do occur, they are at most a small minority of actual accusations. That said, the prospect of such accusations means that there will be an obvious new brush with which genuine victims can be tarred - any man accused of harassing women may simply claim that his accusers are mercenaries trying to destroy his reputation for money. This will both create extra stress for genuine victims, and may lead courts to wrongly fail to convict a higher proportion of genuine abusers.

It is possible that we may come up with a way to prevent false accusers from financially benefiting from their accusations. Suffice it to say, however, that I have not yet thought up such a way, and this is my greatest worry as to why PMSHs may ultimately be unworkable or counterproductive.

A second major concern is that rich abusers may be able to cover up perceptions of their threat level by buying all bets on their being exposed. This is not the absolute worst possible scenario - it would at least mean that they would pay some price for their misdeeds - but it might allow them a pretence of harmlessness which the informal whisper-networks would have quickly dissipated. We all know stories of rich artists who have raped young women and got away with it; while it might be better that they were in prison, at least their reputations provide a warning to other young women who fall into their orbits. These men might be able to counteract or upend these reputations by betting financially on their not being accused.

There are other, smaller, objections, mostly of the form that PMSHs do not go far enough or are insufficient - that they would only take into account abuse of women with money, or that only men who are already in some way notable would have PMSHs surrounding them. These objections might well be correct, but they are not reasons to oppose PMSHs, merely to think that they must serve as part of a whole package of measures we might take to reduce abuse.

Conclusion

My current suspicion is that the disadvantages win out - that PMSHs might well, on balance, make it easier for men to get away with abuse. There are ways to combat this - for example, by preventing men from betting on their own behaviour, and by preventing people from both holding bets that a person will be accused and accusing that same person. If these are even achievable, however, they may undermine the advantages that are supposed to make PMSHs useful.

This should not be the final word. I would welcome any suggestions as to how PMSHs can be designed so as to avoid incentivising false accusations - and as importantly, to avoid giving the impression of incentivising false false accusations - and as to how they can prevent rich abusers from rigging their own reputations. But it seems clear to me that such suggestions are sorely needed before PMSHs can serve as a tool for making women safer.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Notes on Never Eat Alone

I’m about 60% of the way through Keith Ferrazzi’s widely-recommended book on networking,
Never Eat Alone. As such, this is not a comprehensive review but rather a few notes on things
that have so far struck me while reading it.

Where is the actual work being done?
The impression one gets of Ferrazzi’s life from the book is that it (a) creates absolutely
enormous amounts of value for people and (b) involves little to nothing that we would
recognise as “ordinary work”. That’s not to say that he is lazy - the effort he apparently goes
to in making contacts and ensuring that he is adding value to their lives is nothing short of
heroic. But this seems to be all that is happening - there are descriptions of planning ahead
(i.e. planning which people to meet and befriend), and of strategies for meeting people,
directing meetings, and maintaining relationships, but none at all of making important
decisions. Indeed, there’s a mention of one senior business leader who attributes his
success to spending hours each day patrolling the factory, not actually achieving anything
but being sure to greet every individual worker, no matter how lowly, by their first name.

I don’t want to suggest that this kind of stuff is unimportant or that it “isn’t work”. But for it
to be viable for businesses to pay people like Ferazzi megabucks for it, one is led inexorably
to the conclusion that either (a) most business purchasing decisions have a very great deal
of latitude, such that decision-makers can actually decide from whom to buy based on who
the know and like rather than product cost and quality, or (b) the business world is a
chronically low-trust place, such that the creation of these relationships really is incredibly
valuable not just to the individuals concerned but to society as a whole - if there were not these
strong bonds being forged, the deals would not be going through at all. There’s probably also
a fair dollop of (c), that the book - being focused on networking, after all - misses out a lot of
Ferazzi’s other activities, but neither (a) nor (b) exactly fills one with optimism about the state
of the American business world.*

It me
He argues that conferences are basically useless for learning things, but that they are
nevertheless highly valuable because they allow business-people to make connections
leading to contracts. To wit, one of his “Don’t Be This Person” profiles (page 133):

THE WALLFLOWER: The limp handshake, the postion in the far corner of the room, the
unassuming demeanour - all signs that this person thinks he or she is there to watch the speakers.

The determinants of success
If I were to summarise the lessons of the book so far, they would be that social success
depends upon five factors: planning, research, organisation, confidence, and actively seeking
to create value for people.

Ferrazzi regularly thinks consciously about what his goals are, and sets out concrete action
plans for what he wants to achieve towards them in the next 90 days, the next year, and the
next three years. In particular, one aspect of planning I had never considered before s that in
addition to setting goals for himself, he identifies several people - not just for each goal, but
for each progress marker - who can bring him closer to his ambitions. The chosen goals and
targets are based on a mixture of introspection about what he truly wants, and consultation
with others (of course) about what his strengths and weaknesses are. There isn’t much
about tracking one’s progress towards these once started, but it seems safe to assume
that’s part of it too.

Second - he prepares for his networking. Quoting from page 69:

“Before I meet with any new people I’ve been thinking of introducing myself to, I research who
they are and what their business is. I find out what’s important to them: their hobbies, challenges,
goals - inside their business and out. Before the meeting, I generally prepare, or have my assistant
1prepare, a one-page synopsis on the person I’m about to meet… I want to know what this person
is like as a human being, what he or she feels strongly about, and what his or her proudest
achievements are.”

He suggests a variety of ways to go about compiling this information, all of which should
be available online - social media, company PR literature, and annual reports from the company.

A while back, one notoriously successful networker raised considerable furor by revealing that
he kept a list of his friends, ranking them on a variety of metrics including income, political
soundness (for his own warped value of “soundness”), and physical attractiveness. Ferrazzi
doesn’t recommend anything quite so calculating, but he reveals that he goes beyond merely
keeping a list of contacts to divide them up into 1s, 2s, and 3s, and makes contact with them
on a schedule according to their importance within this schema. He also advises that a new
contact will only remember you after they’ve had contact with you via three different media,
and he communicates accordingly - if he emailed them originally, he’ll strive to speak to them
on the phone and to meet them in person within the next few months, for example.

One of the reasons I’d be appalling in his job is that I’d have nowhere near his confidence in
pushing boundaries. I can just about get the idea of trying to meet people well above your
station and maybe even solicit favours from them - but his advice that people will tolerate
being contacted, unsolicited, five times a day seems remarkable. I used to work in a call
centre, and we would frequently have people screaming at us if we called them three times
in a week. Perhaps this is a difference between the UK and the USA?

But the most optimistic key to the golden gates, and a positive note to end on, is his emphasis
on unconditionally aiming to create value for other people. Whenever someone mentions a
problem to him, he describes his thought process as “Who do I know who could help this
person with their problem?” He portrays himself as generous with his time and keen to do
favours, and I have no particular reason to believe that he is being dishonest; and above all,
while he is clear that you should be receiving favours as well as giving them, states as the
title of one of the earliest chapters - Don’t Keep Score. This cuts both ways - being willing to
receive favours that you can’t repay as well as to give out favours with no particular prospect
of them being returned to you - but after all, there’s nothing wrong with being clear about
what others can do for you, so long as one is gracious in accepting them and pays it on to
someone else.

Overall the book’s advice seems actionable; the chapters are short, containing a minimum of
fat; and I am so far happy to add to the recommendations of it.



*Ferrazzi also finds the time for long monastic retreats, weeks building schools by hand in
Africa, spending six months unemployed between jobs, and the like. Again I have no
objections to his presence in the business world, he seems to be creating enormous
amounts of value for those who know him - but it contributes further to the impression that
what value he creates is concentrated within a relatively low number of events, as opposed
to the long grind of value-creation that characterises most jobs.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Three Routes to Elitism

Open and explicit elitism is a greatly underrated political position. Being contrary to the democratic ethos of our times, "elitist" is more commonly a derogatory adjective than a merely descriptive one. In this post, I shall set out three ways in which one might attempt to justify elitism, and suggest ways in which they may be flawed.

Route One: Aren't We Great!

This is the most basic route to elitism, and it is almost as simple as the title above suggests. This is the elitism of pub sessions, of putting the world to rights over a pint or six. Most people probably think that the world would be better off if they were in charge, but the difference is that we - being the cognitive elite, as evidenced by our smart conversations - are actually justified in this belief.

Well, clearly most people who engage in this kind of reasoning aren't justified in it. I actually do think that at least some of the people I know personally are justified in it, but the fact is that even explicitly elitist politics is highly unlikely to put Superforecasters and the like into positions of power. In practice, an openly elitist political system would resemble the average academic department. If we're lucky, a science department where people would at least be highly numerate; if we're unlucky, a humanities department, which are mostly full of "people like Hillary Clinton with faulty BS detectors, poor critical thinking skills, and severe social desirability bias." When one advocates for elitism, one should think of oneself as advocating less for the rule of sensible people like oneself, so much as advocating for the rule of humanities postgrads.


Route Two: Whig History

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a symbol of both Budapest and
Hungary. This is not the original bridge, which was destroyed
during the Second World War and had to be rebuilt.
Count István Széchenyi left an impressive set of institutions around Budapest. The most famous are the Chain Bridge across the Danube and the Széchenyi Thermal Baths, but he also founded the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the National Casino. In addition to this, he conducted various measures to improve the navigability of the Danube and to open it up to steamships, and wrote a great deal of classical liberal political theory. (Since I'm posing Széchenyi as a champion of elitism, it is interesting to contrast him with another figure of 1840s Hungarian politics, Lajos Kossuth. Kossuth was far better known abroad, since after the collapse of the 1848 rebellion he lived abroad as perhaps the single greatest voice of democratic liberal nationalism. Kossuth is every bit as celebrated as Széchenyi - the square in which the Hungarian parliament stands is named for him - but it is almost impossible to point to anything he established which lasted beyond 1849).

Going back further in Hungarian history, the arrival of the Renaissance in Hungary is credited more or less entirely to King Matthias Corvinus. Corvinus was not dealt an especially powerful hand - he started his kingship as a puppet of his uncle - but he greatly expanded his power by establishing a professional army, introducing legal reforms and curbs on baronial power, and creating meritocracy in state service.

The point at which I am driving is that some people do things. Sometimes these things are good, sometimes they are bad, but ultimately they create a small minority upon which progress is dependent. If you want society to progress, the best you can do is to create processes which select for these people and deliver as much power to them as possible.

One important thing to note is that while both of these lines of thinking lead to elitism, they lead to rather different elites - "Aren't We Great" suggests we want our leaders chosen for their intelligence, while "Whig History" suggests we should choose them for being driven and conscientious.

The biggest objection to this kind of elitism is the conservative worry that they will tear apart all that we have achieved. To be honest I think that's probably enough by itself - political deadlock is annoying, but kicking the machine to make it work is generally bad. One might also question the model of the world on which it rests. It may well be that the emergence of Hungary as a prosperous nation in the late 19th century owes a massive amount to Count Széchenyi, but how many other countries are there whose development could be traced to the positive actions of a single person?


Route Three: If not the elites, then who?

I don't think anarchy is feasible, at least for the foreseeable future. It's not that I don't see anarcho-capitalism as a valuable ideal towards which me might aspire, but that people have yet to breed out their tribal instincts and the abolition of the state would lead in short order to massive demand either for a new one, or to its effective replacement with clans. Given this, it makes sense to have a government which is at least somewhat under our control.

Since there must be a government, there must be someone in charge. So... why not the elites? It's true that power attracts people with unsavoury motivations and brings out people's corruption, but that will happen whoever you put in charge. Good traits - not just things like intelligence, health, and height, but also pro-social and trusting attitudes - are positively correlated for the most part. So if it's a choice between the common man and the credulous, unoriginal, unspiring elite in pantsuits... give me the elite every time.