Utopia of rules

Last updated 2021-03-19


I found 'Utopia of Rules' less convincing than his other books, but helps provide context to his other arguments

Iron Law of Liberalism - any attempt to make market more free ends up creating more red tape

The rise of modern corporations was seen as a matter of applying modern bureaucratic techniques to private sector - to increase efficiency

First thing US did on taking over after WW2 was setting up planetary bureaucracies - IMF, World Bank, WTO

Language of bureaucracy - vision, quality, stakeholder, leadership, excellence, innovation, strategic goals, best practices

Bureaucracy ultimately depends on threats of violence - if you don't follow the rules we'll lock you up

Bureaucracy doesn't seem violent because the underlying threats of violence rarely need to be enacted - the chilling effect is enough

Globalized bureaucracy isn't caused by technology - the bureaucracy came first and the computers caught up much later

Globalization is less about free trade and more about using the lack to free movement to arbitrage labour

'Proofs' that it is irrational to vote rely on assuming that personal gain is the only value held, as opposed to civic participation or political ideals

Interpretive labor - the work required to decipher others motives and perceptions

Power over others removes the need to do interpretive labor, leading to not understanding those governed

Violence may well be the only way it is possible for one human being to do something which will have relatively predictable effects on the actions of a person about whom they understand nothing

Bureaucrats with weapons - police spend most of their time not fighting violent crime, but applying violence to enforce bureaucratic rules and regulations

Cops don't beat up burglars [innocent people are more likely to get beaten than criminals - because they protest their innocence]

Bureaucracy = simplifying for legibility + threatening violence to make everyone fit

Non-hierarchical movements tend to falter when encountering wealth/property because they are forced to make some legible structure to meet the laws for ownership

Putting yourself in new situations constantly is the only way to ensure that you make your decisions unencumbered by the inertia of habit, custom, law or prejudice - and it is up to you to create these situations.

The 'public' is not an entity with fixed opinions - the same set of people will come to different decisions depending on how the conversation is organized

Given a choice between a course of action that will make capitalism seem like the only possible economic system and one that will make capitalism actually be a more viable long-term economic system, neoliberalism has meant always choosing the former. [eg killing unions, destroying job security, increasing working hours - depoliticized labor but lowered productivity]

Blame lack of progress in academia on academics being forced to write grant proposals that explain what they will find before they are allowed to go look for it

[On academic grant proposals] If you want to minimize the possibility of unexpected breakthroughs, tell those people they will receive no resources at all unless they spend the bulk of their time competing against each other to convince you they already know what they are going to discover.

Poetic technologies - using technical bureaucratic means to bring wild impossible fantasies to life

Bureaucratic technologies - using creativity and imagination to create ever more effective ways to fill out forms

Poetic technologies vs bureaucratic technologies - administration as a means vs administration as an end

The appeal of bureaucracy is being able to interact without interpretive labor (eg pay money on amazon - get book at door - don't have to deal with nosy librarian judging you)

The appeal of bureaucracy is most evident when it disappears and is completely reliable

'Conspiracy by elite' - Bismark created welfare state as depoliticized state-run alternative to socialist organizations