Tue, 10 May 2005

Maxwell's Political Demon

Cross-posted between my old Angry-Economist blog and my new Russ Nelson blog.

James Maxwell did a lot of work on thermodynamics. One of the things he proposed was a violation of the second law of thermodynamics by a kind of entity with the finite ability to separate energetic molecules from less energetic ones. This entity is called Maxwell's Demon. There are lots of reasons why it fails in the real world; for example sensation requires sampling, and sampling requires destruction of a portion of what is sampled.

You could also posit a kind of Political Demon, which would serve to ensure that good laws are passed and bad laws are not passed. The trouble with this idea is that we already have one such: the president. His function, with his veto power, is to require that Congress only send him good laws, as he will veto the bad laws. You can see how well that has worked in reality. Just like there is a second law of thermodynamics, which dictates the behavior of physical entities, so there is a nature of political action, which dictates the behavior of political entities.

You can see various people attempt to create a Political Demon. You see inveterate attempts to reform government schools. The idea is that without changing the fundamentally coercive nature of government schools, you can have a Political Demon which sorts amongst the characteristics of government schools, eliminating the bad ones and keeping the good ones. Similarly you see attempts at campaign finance reform, or health care reform. I'm starting to see a common characteristic here. Whenever a futile attempt at change is made, it's called "reform", as if the thing under consideration was formed perfectly at one time, has been ruined by the political system, and will now be reformed back into its perfect nature.

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