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To Stewart Brand – Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Longplayer Letters

Wonderful! A dialogue around implementing NNT’s ideas into general practice. Stewart Brand is a proponent of both GMO and nuclear (as of his most recent book, “Whole Earth Discipline”).

The problem of execution: So far we’ve outlined a policy, not how to implement it. Now, as a localist fearful of the centralized top-down state, I wish to live in a society that functions with similar statistical properties as nature, with small thin-tailed non-spreading mistakes, an environment in which the so-called “wisdom of crowds” works well and the state intervention is limited to law enforcement (and that of contracts).

Indeed, we should worry about the lobby-infested state, given the historical tendency of bureaucrats to produce macro harm (wars, disastrous farming policies, crop subsidies encouraging the spread of corn syrup, etc.) But there exists an environment that is not quite that of the “wisdom of crowds”, in which spontaneous corrections are not possible, and legal liabilities difficult to identify. I’ve discussed this in my book Antifragile where some people have an asymmetric payoff at the expense of society: keep the profits and transfer harm to others.

In general, the solution is to move from regulation to penalties, by imposing skin-in-the game-style methods to penalize those who play with our collective safety —no different from our treatment of terrorist threats and dangers to our security. But in the presence of systemic —and branching out —consequences the solution may be to rely on the state to ban harm to citizens (via negativa style ), in areas where legal liabilities may not be obvious and easy to track, particularly harm hundreds of years into the future. For the place of the state is not to get distracted in trying to promote things and concentrate errors, but in protecting our safety. It is hard to understand how we can live in a world where minor risks are banned by the states, say marijuana or other drugs, but systemic threats such as those represented by GMOs encouraged by them. What is proposed here is a mechanism of subsidiarity: the only function of the state is to do things that cannot be solved otherwise. But then, it should do them well.

via Longplayer – Longplayer Letters.

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