conventional wisdom, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Graham, and how shit is about to get real

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Clark is an anarchocapitalist, a reader, and a man of mystery. He's not a neoreactionary, but he is Nrx-curious 'til graduation. All he wants for Christmas is for everyone involved in the police state to get a fair trial and a free hanging. Follow him at @clarkhat

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47 Responses

  1. VPJ says:

    Nice article. Good writing style. Hard to beat "crazy monkey sex."

    "And then the – uh – gripping foot drops a third shoe"
    And bonus nerd points for the Motie reference.

    I approve. Mom? Can we keep him?

  2. Patrick says:

    A fine debut post Clark. We look forward to more. Don't fade on us.

    But: Since you bring up the New York Times, what would a stalwart defender of the welfare state, let's say a Paul Krugman, say about your thesis? He'd tell you, like a university marxist speaking of communism, that the true welfare state hasn't been tried. Or that it hasn't been tried in America, then he'd tell you about the wonders of Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

    You'd reply that Sweden, Norway, and Finland are homogeneous societies with populations smaller than some of the world's larger cities of course, and so they're not representative of anything.

    But they are: They're representative of Sweden, Norway, and Finland, and he'd tell you that if making America, or Mexico, or China, more like Scandiwhovia is required to have a successful welfare state, that's not even a price to pay: it would be a positive boon to the people who don't enjoy a working welfare state. From my own experience, I've been to New York and I've been to Helsinki. I'd rather live in Helsinki any day of the week.

    But then I'd rather live in Austin than in either New York or Helsinki, which is where the analogy falls apart.

  3. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I would suggest that some of what you observe stems from the difference between Scientists and Academics. Confronted with anomalous data the Academic's instinct is "Oh, God, there goes my Endowed Chair", whereas the Scientist's is "That's funny. I wonder if it will do it again?". Scientists tend to be young. A Scientist can (all to often) turn into an Academic, but (with rare exceptions, none of which come to mind at the moment) Academics do not turn into Scientists.

    This explains why PhD's tend to re-state whatever new insight was in their doctoral thesis for the rest of their career.

  4. Clark says:


    > bonus nerd points [ for Niven reference ]

    There's a William Gibson reference in there too.

  5. Scott Jacobs says:

    I suspect that when Patrick said "his politics run to the left", he was speaking ironically…

  6. David says:

    The chief problem with Kuhn's SoSR is that it falls within its own scope.

  7. Ken says:

    If you’re crude, it’s fun to discuss things the technical way; if you’re technical, it’s fun to discuss it crudely.

    Is that a William Gibson reference?

    Edit: Dammit. Missed your comment.

    So where's the sawed-off in the duffel?

  8. Todd S. says:

    Sir, while I am required by the other authors to welcome you, I am happy to say that I do so quite willingly. An excellent debut.

  9. Dan S says:

    Sounds like an echo to me.

    How does the 'welfare state' differ from the 'common wealth'?

    Banding together for the common good is historic. Guaranteeing safety, education, and health for the poorest is an investment in my own world, which IS the world – not a personal secluded enclave. You speak of the welfare state growing, but have you metrics? Poverty is growing, so the needs of the poor are becoming an issue. Is that the fault of the welfare state? Does the welfare state initiate its own growth, or is the growth you see really a product of the growth of poverty?

    In all the grumblings, one rarely sees the 'common welfare' cost of government delineated. Our commitment to the military is the biggest part of it. We dare not talk about that. So we talk about the poor people, and the terrible drain they are on our resources.

    Many also complain that our government has become a welfare state for corporations, letting them become hobby businesses that could not survive on their own. Is this a problem for you, or is only the cost of helping people maintain a minimum standard of living a problem?

    LIKE your stuff on the scammers, by the way… you might take a look at McAfee's auto-renewal program. It's hard to escape from – people need to realize that your first payment to them sets up an online account which you need to turn off to stop the automatic charges. A computer of mine that died a year ago was auto-renewed for $53 and the bank sided with McAfee.

  10. Terriligunn says:

    You know honestly this can be applied to so many more subjects, thanks for the inspiration.

  11. The "welfare state" is not what is wrong with our economy, and there's nothing in the article above that in any way proves that it is. The article expresses an entirely unsupported opinion puffed up to grandiose proportions with entertaining writing.
    Not impressed.

  12. Randall says:

    You took me by surprise – during your intro, I thought you were building up to superluminal neutrinos. In any case, well done and welcome to Popehat!

  13. Clark says:


    > So where’s the sawed-off in the duffel?

    On advice of counsel I'm going to plead the fifth…and/or pad my answer with tennis socks.

  14. Clark says:

    @Jonathan Kamens :

    > The “welfare state” is not what is wrong with our economy, and there’s nothing in the article above that in any way proves that it is.

    One core problem is that spending is near 40% of GDP and revenue is under 20% of GDP.

    The recession shows no signs of ending, and even respectable pundits are now joining us wookie-suiters is saying that the double dip is about to arrive. Comparison's with Japan's Lost Decade are rife.

    …which is to say, if you've got a convincing argument for why federal revenue is going to climb from 18% to, say, 23%, of GDP is going to happen any time soon, please put it on the table.

    Further, there's no evidence that the US can EVER collect more than 23% of the GDP.

    …so if you've got convincing evidence that there's some plan to bring US federal spending down from ~40% of GDP to ~%20 of GDP, please also put THAT on the table.

    QED: there is a MASSIVE budget gap that can not be closed any time soon.

    Now, to discuss the proposition that the welfare state is a necessary component of this unsustainable mess:

    National defense is a bit over 50% of the budget. Go far beyond what any democrat is suggesting and cut that in half…to 25%.

    This is not politically achievable, but do it anyway.

    …now all you need to do is cut 50% of the NON-defense budget.

    The vast majority of the non-defense budget is transfer payments.

    QED: the welfare state WILL be cut.

    > The article expresses an entirely unsupported opinion puffed up to grandiose proportions with entertaining writing.

    Well, I see you've grasped the essential nature of Popehat.

    …and of my own humble contribution.

  15. Cloudesley Shovell says:


    You state in your comment that national defense spending is a bit over 50% of the budget. I'm curious where you got that number.

    Did you mean 50% of the so-called discretionary budget?

    Most sources say that defense spending (which varies based upon how you define "defense spending") is 20-30% of annual federal outlays, including so-called mandatory outlays like Social Security and Medicare.

    If by "budget" you meant total federal revenues, as opposed to outlays, then 50% is a good ballpark figure.


  16. Patrick says:

    The “welfare state” is not what is wrong with our economy, and there’s nothing in the article above that in any way proves that it is. The article expresses an entirely unsupported opinion puffed up to grandiose proportions with entertaining writing.
    Not impressed.

  17. cackalacka says:

    The nice thing about Krugman and conservatives, is he seems to perpetually validate Gandhi quotes.

  18. Scott Jacobs says:

    He does?

    Wouldn't he have to be, you know, right first?

  19. Gaunilo says:

    In a former life while teaching microeconomic policy, I expressed the opinion that in business, hard decisions are never made while there is still money in the bank.

    The US government problem is that there is still money in the bank today, even though the bottom of the well is clearly visible. Nothing to see here, move along please.

  20. Reed says:


    1. What do you mean by a "universal" welfare state? Do you mean to state that all forms of government assistance will be universally subject to "crumbling"? If so, on what basis do you make that assertion? Can you point to a single functioning government anywhere in place or time that has not provided some level of welfare to some segment of its population? Isn't the issue the degree of welfare to be afforded/tolerated rather than the existence of welfare?

    2. "The idea of the universal welfare state may be crumbling before our eyes" is a far cry from "QED: the welfare state WILL be cut", unless by "cut" you mean "eliminated entirely."

    There are changes which can be made to Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare which would dramatically reduce their overall impact on the federal budget but would not constitute the "crumbling" of the "universal welfare state".

    It is far from clear why you believe that it is more likely that the entire structure will collapse than that reasonable changes will be made.

  21. discretionary docket says:

    Kuhn is shit; trendy and name-dropped by hipsters. Popper is unfashionable but a far superior philosopher of science.

  22. aczarnowski says:

    Nice to meet you as well!

  23. eddie says:

    "The article expresses an entirely unsupported opinion puffed up to grandiose proportions with entertaining writing."

    Indeed. And well done at that.

    Keep it up! It's what I come here for.

  24. Bob says:

    Hmm.. but what is the alternative to the welfare state? What do we do with the people who can't or simply won't "provide for themselves"?

  25. tomd says:

    "As Margaret Thatcher famously said “the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”."

    Or as Marie Antoinette might have said, "The problem with extracting too much money from the actually-productive poor and middle class and transferring it to a tiny, wealthy elite, and not spending enough on social welfare, and imprisoning a large part of your population and running a bunch of expensive, pointless foreign wars is that once the tiny, non-productive wealthy elite have run out of other people's money, there's a revolution and they cut off your head."

    I love both Libertarian-ism and Communism on paper. It's like playing Dungeons and Dragons – there's this great rules-construct which mediates the interactions of abstract person-like characters who come into conflict with each other and attempt to achieve various ends within the rules-framework. But outside of the game-world, you enter the realm of actual human beings.

    I don't doubt that the current framework of government/marketplace/social welfare has problems and will need to change. I do question the not-explicitly-explained underlying problem in the article, but more importantly, if the author of the article understands the actual underlying problem, then why didn't he present even the vague outline of a solution/resolution?

    The Libertarian loves to sit and yell, "Rules are the problem! Government is the problem!" and his counter-balance the Communist goes, "No! Capital and property ownership and the inherent clueless chaos of the marketplace are the problem!" But when pressed to provide solutions that real human beings can actually implement, they both fall on their face very, very hard. Both the Libertarian paradise of Afghanistan before the rise of Taliban and the Communist paradise of, well, a whole bunch of disastrous failures, seem to prove out that neither fringe theory works very well in application.

    Krugman may be off at one end of the real-world economic spectrum, and I'm sure that all of his actually implementable suggestions are imperfect. But at least he's suggesting actual policies and not just throwing ideological poop.

    Now, let's get some photos on-line of his Dan Savage-shocking Nobel Prize monkey-sex!

  26. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Good on tone & rhetoric, bit short on details. Still, fun read, welcome!

  27. randomscrub says:

    Bonus points for obscure Firefly dialogue reworking! Wash's (bad) impromptu eulogy FTW!

  28. Moebius Street says:

    Bravo, Clark. And let me introduce myself, too, since I just arrived (by way of a link to the scammer serial).

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. The commentary was good (anything reinforcing one's own prejudices has a head start), I loved the Motie reference, and I even got to learn about "hedonic treadmill" (which I think may be handy to use in argument against those incorrectly stating that the poor are getting poorer). Let me also point out that, in small measure, the fact of your article's existence, and so many others like it, tends to support (in small measure) the thesis of the article itself.

  29. Clark says:


    > Bonus points for obscure Firefly dialogue reworking!

    VPJ got the Niven reference.
    Ken got the Gibson.
    Randomscrub got the Whedon.

    All of the Easter eggs have now been collected, folks.

  30. SPQR says:

    No, tomd, often Krugman is just throwing ideological poop.

    Taranto found a classic example.

  31. Patrick says:

    The Libertarian loves to sit and yell, “Rules are the problem! Government is the problem!” and his counter-balance the Communist goes, “No! Capital and property ownership and the inherent clueless chaos of the marketplace are the problem!” But when pressed to provide solutions that real human beings can actually implement, they both fall on their face very, very hard.

    If you think that you understand the differences, and the alleged similarity, between libertarians and communists you're obviously still in college. Let me tell you the primary difference between libertarians and communists:

    It's that communists kill or imprison anyone who disagrees with them, when they're in a position to do so, and enslave the people they claim to represent.

    Libertarians don't.

  32. ElamBend says:

    I was trying to think if there has been any example of a welfare state collapsing, yet; and it occurred to me that we do have one: The Soviet Union's welfare system. The successor state, Russia, took up the Soviet welfare system, but made it affordable by finding bureaucratic ways to pay less and less (including not adjusting for inflation). I think that's the direction we'll eventually head: it won't disappear, it will just fade away.

    My only fear is that if we wait too long to fiddle with the system (to lower payments) then the 'lowering' with come in a big spasmodic inflationary shock.

  33. Scott Jacobs says:

    That's the rub, isn't it Elam?

    We can either take steps to make measured and controlled cuts and restrictions to entitlement programs now, or we can make panicked and savage cuts because there is literally nothing left in the wallet.

    The cuts people want now might seem horribly draconian, but they really have no idea what they will be forced to make in a few years when there isn't a single penny left to borrow.

  34. Patrick says:

    The Roman Empire was, within the technological, economic, and travel limits of its time, a welfare state. Simplistic readers of Gibbon will tell you that Christianity destroyed the empire. Jared Diamond will tell you that a plague destroyed the empire, but Gibbon and Diamond would concede that when Alaric sacked Rome, the city alone had more able-bodied men than the Visigoth army, not to mention a higher tech level.

    But these were Romans who'd been living on the corn dole since Marius. They weren't going out to fight. Can anyone imagine Alaric defeating the citizen-farmer Romans of the Republic, who won the Social Wars against all of Italy and conquered Carthage?

  35. Scott Jacobs says:

    To be fair, one could be forgiven for thinking that Gibbon laid the blame on Christianity – the man had a serious hate for the faith, and how he wrote of the Byzantine Empire (which one could just as easily call the Roman Empire, since that is how other in that period called it) shows that in spades.

  36. Patrick says:

    Oh he did lay the blame on Christianity, in spades, but that isn't the only place he laid the blame. My point in bringing Gibbon into the matter is that the High School Reading List (at least the one I had in the 1980s – nowadays Gibbon has been replaced by "I, Rigoberta Menchu") teaches us that Gibbon's only idea is that Christianity destroyed Rome. In fact, the man had many ideas about what destroyed Rome. He wasn't a one trick pony.

  37. Scott Jacobs says:

    Hell, in the late 90's, such was never on a reading list.

    It was something I had to seek out on my own.

    Yeah, I was one of those kids.

  38. Patrick says:

    So what did you think of "I, Rigoberta Menchu", Scott?

  39. Scott Jacobs says:

    I bless whatever God may dwell in heaven that such an atrocity was also absent from any list of books I was required to read.

    Oddly enough, it was a book I did not seek out.

  40. Ken says:

    Sometimes the rainbow spectrum of types of geekery at this place makes me soil myself with joy.

  41. Scott Jacobs says:

    Are you sure that isn't the incontinence caused by the senility? :)

  42. Ken says:

    I'd kick your ass for that if it wasn't almost time for Wheel of Fortune.

  43. Scott Jacobs says:

    I've seen pictures of you, old man.

    I'm pretty sure I can take you. All I need to do is aim for the hip.


  44. Love the style, Clark. But.

    I do enjoy watching libertarians blame TEH WELFARE STATEZZ for all our problems, while moaning about how it requires 'taking other people's money'. As if that money could have been made in the absence of an education system, a health system, national security, enforceable laws yada yada yada. Government spending – to some extent – is a prerequisite to private profit, not a hindrance to it.

    I'm from Australia, not the US, so I don't claim to know about your budgetary policy. But I'm quite prepared to believe that many spending decisions in your country are prolifigate, unnecessary and badly thought out. God knows many of ours are. But that's an argument for better – and, yes, generally less – government spending, not a cue to abandon the welfare state altogether. You raise the case of Russia – would you rather live there or the US? Do you really think that the existence of a welfare state is irrelevant to your answer?

    As for the 'crazy monkey sex' bit – you're damn right welfare statists try to outdo each other arguing for more, regardless the evidence. Just like libertarians try to outdo each other in arguing for lower taxes, regardless of the evidence. Both are ideological positions. Both are to be viewed with – ahem – suspicion.

    Anyway: what is it about caring for old people, the disabled and the needy that drives you guys so nuts?

  45. SPQR says:

    Tim, its not just caring for all those old people that have more money than I do, that drives me nuts. Its caring for all the crony capitalists that get my money handed to them for political bullshit like Solyndra wasting a half a billion dollars on a solar cell faux "green jobs" scam that was known to be unprofitable before it was built.

    Its spending billions to bailout Wall Street cronies of the President even as he delivers speeches full of class warfare crap that drives me nuts. Its a political class that knows it can't keep spending money exponentially but refuses to actually put that knowledge into effect that drives me nuts.

    And its economically-ignorant left wing sots who think that money grows on magic trees labeled "Rich Billionaires" that drive me nuts.

  46. SPQR,

    Again, I can't comment on spending decisions in the the US. I can only say that in Australia, most welfare goes to people who have little or no earnings at all, and that welfare here is not enough to live on. Here, we don't give money to old people who have more money than I do. Here, that's a myth believed by people who a) have plenty of money and b) have never been on welfare. Maybe it's different in the US.

    The rest of your post I wholeheartedly agree with.

  47. Jess says:

    "…The welfare state is dying, the evidence is becoming more and more clear, the Chief Monkeys are losing their power, and the world is about to undergo the kind of intellectual revolution and tumult that it only sees once every few centuries or so…."

    Scary stuff for most people. Those that love it, fear the loss. Those that despise it, fear the unknown changes. Those that accept the change, wonder how they'll survive.