Social Technology, Trade-offs, Nrx-ish Concerns
We use the term “technology” when we discover a process that lets you get more output for less investment..when you lose social technology, both sides of the bargain get worse. You keep raising taxes yet the lot of the poor still deteriorates. You spend tons of money on prisons and have a militarized police force, yet they seem unable to stop muggings and murder…
A lot of our thorniest political battles involve two sides desperately trying not to lose too much ground in the aftermath of a loss of social technology. Civil libertarians bemoaned the growth of the police state while law and order types bewail soaring crime statistics. Left-wingers bemoan the lack of progress on poverty, while right-wingers point out that the ratchet of federal funding is clicking upwards with no end in sight. And because of human loss aversion, these fights are often some of the most bitter debates in politics. Both sides remember a time when they were much closer to achieving their values, and neither wants to backslide further now.
That last point is novel, seems to fit the data, and rather poignant.
Social technology here is related to the governance technology we often talk about here, but subtly different: it not only includes institutions, but the web of customs, culture, and trust in a society which supports those institutions. Those “soft factors” not captured in my simple “law as code” model seem quite relevant to today’s problems, yet it’s much less clear to me how to fix them. Letting a thousand nations bloom would help, but unlike the legal and administrative aspects of governance, what if webs of social trust take generations to form, require culturally and/or racially homogeneous inhabitants, and/or have inherent conflicts with modern technology and/or post-industrial revolution capitalism?