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Creating Social Dysfunction
You pay an organisation to do what makes its resources go up: II
This article can be adumbrated thusly: states have little incentive to service areas that produce no revenue, but such fiscal sinks do provide opportunities for imperial bureaucracies to model their virtue.
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As discussed in my previous essay, the state apparat’s default mode towards any society it lives off is a colonising-imperial mode. This is especially so given the inherent bureaucratic tendency to hoard authority, spend resources on itself and seek protections against the complexities of competence.
It takes great and continuous effort to force the state apparat to be accountable. This effort will be systematically undermined if journalism is dominated by university graduates who identify with and as elite, rather than with the wider citizenry. Modern universities socialise their graduates into such an elite identification. They see the wider citizenry as human clay to be moulded by their “betters”.
The welfare state tends naturally to evolve into a structure for colonising social pathologies, particularly when expenditure is justified by stated intentions. Organisations are then rewarded for failures in human flourishing, even for social corrosion. The higher the level of social pathology, the more revenue and job opportunities those organisations receive.
This pattern operates particularly intensely in Anglo-settler societies with indigenous policy but also appears, for example, in the Homelessness Industrial Complex. The human capacity for self-deception is absolutely up to bridging the gap between official intention and structural interest.
Crime and fiscal sinks
That different human populations had different selection pressures is demonstrated by variation in skin tones (notably melanin content) and other physical features. Questions of population IQ variations are vexed, not least because IQ—while significantly heritable—is clearly affected by nutrition and social and disease environment. Thus, urbanisation tends to raise average IQ; a heavy parasite load tends to depress cognitive function; more animal food consumption in early childhood raises cognitive function.
While IQ is correlated with social outcomes, this varies according to what sort of constraint or opportunity it provides, over what ranges, and when and where other factors—such as conscientiousness—are more important.
The valorising of IQ is ridiculous: no great ethical system has claimed that intelligence, without more, is a virtue. Many ancient societies recognised you got your gifts from your parents. That made them sources of duty, not virtue.
Alas, one of the great appeals of gnostic notions of “correct consciousness” is that it converts certain verbal and cognitive facilities into markers of profound virtue. Indeed, those with self-allocated authority have sufficient goodness to censor, shout down, and destroy the careers of others.
What is almost completely heritable is executive function. That is:
supervisory cognitive processes that monitor, coordinate, and control the execution of other cognitive operations necessary for learning and everyday functioning.
(Engelhardt et al.)
Particularly in meritocratic societies, executive function tends to sort by social class, with the huge expansion in education sorting high executive-function folk out of working-class communities. Executive function’s almost complete heritability is a major reason why social mobility tends to be relatively low across human societies.
This sorting by social class leads to policies that work in social milieus where most people have strong executive function not working—even being disastrous—in social milieus where majorities have weaker executive function. This is what makes luxury beliefs—opinions with entry costs—effective status markers. It also gives women more reason to be wary of working-class—and even more so underclass—men.
Also strongly heritable (though obviously affected by nutrition and disease) is physical robustness (strength, size, physical resilience). This matters. Since the Iron Age, warm climate riverine farmlands where peasants work in water-sodden fields full of pathogens and parasites (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Northern India, Southern China) have been perennially conquered by outsiders.
In Southern China’s case, the invaders came mostly from Northern China, with the exception of the Mongol Yuan (1271-1368) and the Jurchen (or Manchu) Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Conversely, for over two millennia—from the defeat and flight of Pharaoh Nectanebo II in 340BC to the Officer’s Revolution of 1952—Egypt was only ever ruled by conquering outsiders. There was a state in Egypt, just not an Egyptian one.
The combination of high physical robustness and weaker executive function—meaning in particular less patience—predicts more physical aggression and so more crime. The combination of low physical robustness and strong executive function predicts less physical aggression and less crime.
In both cases, the features are distributed in normal “bell curve” fashion. So, the question is how “fat” the distribution’s tails are.
Violent crime in particular is a power-law phenomenon, with a Swedish study finding that around one per cent of individuals (almost all male) generate about two-thirds of violent crimes. Even a small increase in the number at the high end of the distribution of high physical robustness + weak executive function will generate a much higher crime rate in a population (for a given level of policing).
East Asia had weak selection for physical robustness but strong selection for executive function, as its underclass (made up of males excluded from the polygynous marriage market plus eunuchs who did not get an imperial appointment) did not breed. Meanwhile, highly educated (and so high executive-function) scholar-officials had wives plus multiple concubines, so disproportionately more children. Rice farming—and irrigated farming more generally—may also select somewhat for executive function.
Coming from cultures that have valorised literacy and education for millennia—and selected for strong executive function but not physical robustness—East Asian diasporas are noted for commercial and professional success, plus low crime rates.
Conversely, Sub-Saharan Africa is where Homo sapiens evolved. This meant lots of predators, mega-herbivores, parasites, and pathogens which co-evolved with humans. Hence both strong selection for physical robustness but, due to more random survival prospects, weaker selection for executive function. Most resultant cultures were mostly not literate.
Low population density also made labour more valuable than land. This meant that slavery—dominating others so completely you could turn them into property—was endemic in Africa. Owning people was more remunerative than owning land.
The more dispersed population, the lack of good ports and navigable rivers, endemic slave raids and the negative effect of slavery on trust, made it much more difficult to generate “Smithian” (specialisation and trade) economic growth. Indeed, those living in uplands and other rugged terrain (so more shielded from slave raids) tended to be more prosperous than those who because they lived on plains and coasts were subject to slave raids. This is a reversal of the usual geographical advantage pattern in other farming and pastoralist regions.
Given such risky environments, African families often disperse children through fostering (insulating the family from local disaster). This weakens parental—particularly paternal—investment in children even more than polygyny normally does. In any case, many African cultures have very high levels of polygyny: women dominate hoe-farming, so one husband can have many more wives.
Until recently, African diasporas have not been noted for commercial or academic success (though that is changing among legal emigrants) but have been noted for higher crime rates.
The latter is an entirely soluble matter, as we are dealing with a tiny violent minority. It simply requires putting more resources into effective policing in areas with higher African-descended populations. The best measures of whether such resource allocation is effective are homicide clearance rates, and homicide rates, by locality.
Slavery also selected for physical robustness: who survived being captured, transported, and worked. It did not select for executive function. On the contrary, the more organised (higher executive function) tended to enslave and sell the less organised (weaker executive function). African diaspora populations descended from slaves are thus particularly vulnerable to the ill-effects of under-policing.
US elites have perennially engaged in a pattern of under-policing disfavoured groups when playing favour-and-dominate games. The key features of “Jim Crow” (under-providing policing and schooling; felony convictions for social order crimes that, along with taxes, were used to block voting; extra-judicial lynching of an “obviously violent” minority) were originally developed in the Antebellum South to repress “masterless men”. That is, poor, generally landless, Euro-Americans systematically alienated from a system based on slavery, on social domination by masters. Hence reports such as:
Poor white men, especially, began to be considered “dangerous” and violent individuals who were always looking for trouble. As Edward Ayers found, affluent Southerners likely feared poor white men more than they did slaves. The note of one physician contained sentiments that seemed to “have been widely shared.” When traveling alone, the doctor admitted, “the sudden appearance of a white man generally excited some apprehension with regard to personal safety, but the sight of a black man was always cheering, and made him feel safe.” (Merritt, p.219)
After Reconstruction, this existing Southern system was racialised to repress the ex-slaves and their descendants.
In both cases, the consequences of under-policing were hidden behind the stigmatisation of the under-policed as “obviously violent”. Yet those elevated levels of violence were a thoroughly soluble problem.
This is demonstrated by how—in rural US areas—African-Americans and Euro-Americans have the same homicide rates. The divergence in homicide rates between the two population groups increases the more urbanised the community. Specifically, it increases in localities with a high rate of female-headed households. Such a pattern is obviously not a genetic effect.
Pacifying to tax
The reason for this divergence in homicide rates is simple: the fiscal-sink effect.
From the earliest chiefdoms and states, the main reason for states to pacify localities they controlled was to generate revenue. Chiefs and rulers preferred their tribute and taxpayers not to kill each other.
The pacification effect of chiefdoms and states was so strong, it turns up in the genetic record. Farming and pastoralism led to increased population density—along with productive assets (farmland and herds) to defend—which meant increased competition between kin groups. Again and again, males would be killed or enslaved and their women taken by the victors. The effect was so intense that only about 1-in-17 male lineages made it through this Neolithic y-chromosome bottleneck.
Female lineages were unaffected. Instead, lots of women ended up breeding with rapists who had killed or perhaps enslaved their male relatives. This is what anarchy actually looks like in practice.
With the development of chiefdoms and states, the social technology of exploitation caught up with the social technology of aggression. It was in the interest of rulers to protect males who generated revenue for them, and who could also raise families generating new taxpayers.
Hence rates of violence plummeted as the (state-dominated) extraction of surplus surged. Remember, states have always dominated the extraction of surplus (production above subsistence). Farming and pastoralism means more babies. Food has to be extracted before it can be turned into babies for there to be significant surplus.
Hence, stateless societies generate minimal surplus. Even in our mass-surplus societies, the profit share of GDP (excluding housing and financial institutions) is 15-20 per cent, while the tax share in developed democracies is around 25-50 per cent of GDP.
In fiscal-sink localities, i.e., localities that cost more in expenditure than they provide in revenue, the state’s incentive to pacify is hugely reduced. The more urbanised the community, the more intense the fiscal-sink effect becomes in particular localities. This means under-policed localities. This is why the divergence between Euro-American and African-American homicide rates increases the more urbanised the localities with more female-headed households. They are fiscal sinks. And slave-descended diasporas are particularly vulnerable to under-policing.
Regardless of the ancestry of the local inhabitants, states put less effort into policing fiscal-sink localities, as the revenue return is not there. This effect is very strong in the US, where policing is largely a local government matter but health expenditure (which higher crime drives up) is a state or federal matter.
The fiscal-sink effect is stronger again in the rest of Latin America, with its large slave diasporas and poor state capacity. The poor often live in neighbourhoods that are part of the informal economy, so not taxed at all.
As executive function is so heritable and socially sorted, poor or welfare-dependant localities are going to have more people with violent propensities. So, the localities where effective policing is most needed are precisely those where the state has the least incentive to provide effective policing. This effect is absent in rural US regions, as they do not have fiscal-sink localities anywhere near to the same degree. There is much less differentiation of policing by locality.
In the absence of effective law enforcement, you get self-help. In the case of high-crime localities, a bravado culture can develop, where males puff up their social boundaries, showing a readiness to engage in violence to enforce those boundaries. A 1278 case in London, from court records, provides an illustrative example:
Symonet Spinelli, Agnes his mistress and Geoffrey Bereman were together in Geoffrey’s house when a quarrel broke out among them; Symonet left the house and returned later the same day with Richard Russel his Servant to the house of Godfrey le Gorger, where he found Geoffrey; a quarrel arose and Richard and Symonet killed Geoffrey.
If we swap mistress for girlfriend, servant for gang member, it becomes a sadly commonplace tale of contemporary urban America—just as the original was a commonplace tale in urban medieval England.
You would think that the contemporary urban US could do somewhat better in law enforcement than c13th England. Yet this is often not true. Moreover, it is not true due to systematic policy choices.
The creation of fiscal-sink localities—and the subsidising of more disconnected and chaotic lives—is how state welfare puts upward pressure on crime rates. It also geographically separates people following middle-class life strategies, meaning a lack of successful life strategies for others to copy.
Poor folk dispersed among middle-class folk tend to do better, because there are far more folk pursuing middle-class life strategies to model, while middle-class norms are mutually reinforcing. Conversely, concentrating poor folk in particular localities (e.g. large public housing estates) tends to reinforce more destructive life-strategies and norms.
In zoned-zones of highly restrictive land-use policies (so very restricted housing supply), there may be perverse incentives to aggravate the fiscal-sink effect. As tech-entrepreneur Peter Thiel has hypothesised, policies such as tolerating homelessness, open-drug scenes, under-suppling policing, increasing welfare use, make high-end localities not subject to such effects more desirable. This raises their property values more than it depresses those in affected areas, which means a net increase in property tax revenues from the under-provision of policing services in distressed localities.
This means dysfunctional policy may actually increase local government revenues. If the costs of dysfunction, such as health costs, can also be passed onto State and Federal governments, it may also increase the housing wealth of those more able to influence public policy.
In other words, public policy can create negative positional goods (status/amenity goods that are supply-rationed) through degrading localities by under-servicing them while concentrating public housing, thereby creating positive positional goods elsewhere, elevating market value and tax revenue.
You pay organisations to do what makes their resources go up, as people do what makes their income, status and authority go up. This absolutely includes government (and non-profit) organisations, incorporating whatever level of self-deception is available to make congruence with their interests work.
Elites also network better, so are more able to push public policy in their direction. An amazing amount California’s flood of tech-wealth has been mopped up by real estate, through highly restrictive land regulation, as well as increased renumeration for public-sector workers. And California evidences florid examples of the policy model of preening social corrosion.
The next essay examines how elite networks benefit from social dysfunction.
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