Why Being in Charge Ain't What It Used to Be: Nick Gillespie reviews "The End of Power"

In the latest issue of Barron's, I've got a review of Moisés Naím's excellent new book, The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be.

Here's a snippet:

The year 1977, notes Naím, "was the high-water mark of authoritarian rule, with 90 authoritarian countries," according to Freedom House's count. By 2008, there were only 23 authoritarian nations left. In the corporate world, of the top 100 companies on the 2010 Forbes 500 list, two-thirds were survivors from the 2000 list and one-third hadn't existed in 2000. Between 1998 and 2008, the top five motor-vehicle manufacturers in the world saw their combined market share decline from 54% to 48%.

The author also shows how traditional, top-down, mega-organizations such as labor unions, school districts, charities, and organized religions are losing ground to smaller, nimbler arrangements ranging from worker co-ops to charter schools to micro-lending. Naím attributes the decay of power to what he calls the "more revolution," the "mobility revolution," and the "mentality revolution," each of which empowers individuals. These revolutions can be thought of as economist Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction" on steroids. Capitalism generally decentralizes power by disrespecting status, wealth, and tradition. As Marx and Engels put it memorably in The Communist Manifesto, under capitalism, "all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…."

Read the whole review here. The End of Power is a powerful, persuasive, and measured analysis of the most important trends of the past several decades.

And check out the excerpt from the book that appeared in the April 2013 issue of Reason.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Have you ever read Milton, Captain?

  • kinnath||

    Power abhors a vacuum.

  • Hugh Akston||

    That's why it hires illegal immigrants to do the housework.

  • kinnath||

    Cognitive Dissonance

  • Outlaw||

    Pol Pot-style death squads stealing what has already been stolen and dealing with wreckers, comrade.

  • Rasilio||

    We eat more taco bell?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    In the third world and what was formerly the Iron Curtain, sure.

    In the developed countries, not so much. Government bureaucracies have been taking all the power they can get their hands on and these countries have as a general rule gotten less economically free in the post-Cold War era. After the GWoT, the quality of civil liberties protection has also declined significantly.

    You're fooling yourself if you look at an America where a significant part of its medical sector has been turned over to government bureaucrats and see a country where top-down organization is in its final death throes.

  • Floridian||

    Seconded

  • Cytotoxic||

    What's happening in those 3rd world and Iron Curtain countries will make change in the developed countries possible. Those bureaucrats can't beat the wealth generators when they leave.

  • ||

    And as we can see with the NSA scandals, they are trying to observe our every communication and finally have the technology to at least try and do so. So the authoritarian pendulum is swinging back to the "very authoritarian" side again.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Unfortunately so. The US' wealth is begetting the sort of complacency that Thomas Jefferson warned against when he cautioned that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance against tyrants.

  • VG Zaytsev||

  • Rasilio||

    "You're fooling yourself if you look at an America where a significant part of its medical sector has been turned over to government bureaucrats and see a country where top-down organization is in its final death throes."

    And yet in many cases the states lead by strong public opposition shut down local implementation of Obamacare, others have told the Federal Government to go take a flying leap and legalized or decriminalized marijuana and everywhere you look public disdain and occasionally outright disregard for invasive laws abounds.

    What I see is a power structure desperately using the threat of terrorism combined with modern technology to reimpose the control they had at the height of the Cold War to at best mixed success and whether they ultimately succeed in the end is still very much up in the air.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    But they have succeeded, at least up until now. Until recently, the US used to be in the top three countries as far as economic freedom (along with Hong Kong and Singapore) per both the Index of Economic Freedom and Fraser Institute. Today they are not even in the top ten of either list.

    There are specific issues I can think of where the US has gotten better (gun rights, some social freedoms), but it's mostly been a long train of abuses and usurpation. Perhaps it will get better in the future (and I'd hardly advocate giving up hope), but right now things ain't looking so hot for the good guys; the author of the above book is being naive if he thinks that as things stand, they are significantly better for developed countries than they were a number of years ago.

  • Robert||

    Since 1977, you might be right. I think we hit Peak Freedom ~20 yrs. ago. But we're still a lot freer than when I was a child.

  • robc||

    Ive been thinking I need to reread A Deepness in the Sky. It had some appropriate bits about ubiquitous surveillance.

  • Brett L||

    Overload, infiltrate, get on the radar and vetted as a non-threat, IIRC. Worth reading again because it is awesome.

  • tarran||

    It all depends on the tech used for communicating.

    When centralized communication technology outperforms decentralized forms, you get large organizations with gatekeepers running the show. When the decentralized forms are competitive, then people begin bypassing the gatekeepers (or at least going to niche ones).

    Prior to the rise of the Internet, the centralized tech had grown to nearly dominate, and the Internet reempowered decentralized communications to a degree we haven't had since the invention of continuously printers used to mass-produce newspapers in the 19th century.

    My guess is that the Internet is a game changer... nobody will ever exert the form of influence that the govt/media complex assembled by Herbert Hoover again.

    And once the gatekeepers lose control, I expect that the long term arc will be in the direction of greater freedom, since that works better, and it will slowly retake the economy, one little chunk at a time.

  • kinnath||

    The long term arc is that we all die.

  • BakedPenguin||

    With the NSA, we have a few factors on our side. The sheer number of communications intercepted means they have to use data mining techniques, which will overlook the vast majority of emails and other electronic messages. They have an institutional habit of secrecy - to the point that they didn't turn over the info they had on the 9/11 bombers to the FBI or CIA. I have no doubt they are abusing their power mightily, but I suspect they're keeping it almost all in house. Finally, there is both personal and institutional incompetence.

  • BigT||

    NSA begs to differ.

  • A Serious Man||

    Hanna Rosin?

  • Tonio||

    Sam Harris?

  • ||

    Ehrlick?

  • fish||

    Hunter S. Thompson?

  • Paul.||

  • BakedPenguin||

    Meanwhile, from 24/7, Neo-Nazi Mongolians.

  • Brett L||

    Nazi environmentalists in Mongolia. Too good to be true.

  • A Serious Man||

    Gives a whole new spin on the Green Police.

  • Brett L||

    Oh, I think they've boiled the movement down to its essence.

  • A Serious Man||

    Yep, like a political version of the Pepsi Challenge: list a platform that includes a safety net for the unemployed and elderly, environmentally conscious programs, toss in some stimulus and protectionism and you got something most lefties could get behind.

  • Robert||

    These have long been major points for most Nazis & Naz-symps worldwide. It's only the "left" dominance of media that has caused these features to be hidden.

  • MJGreen||

    So which do they invade first? Poland or China?

  • From the Tundra||

  • squarooticus||

    I'm not sure the implicit assertion that democracy is not authoritarian is necessarily true. Tyranny of the majority is still tyranny, after all, and as our human/civil/constitutional rights continue to get watered down, the protection the minority should have from this tyranny slowly disappears.

  • Robert||

    I think they're assuming that such majorities will be transient, and therefore that no particular faction will be in power long enough for their particular brand of tyranny to be cemented. Of course flitting from one flavor of authoritarianism to another could be worse than one consistent one.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Yep,

    Tyranny is dependent on the size and power of government, not the form of it's organization.

    Democracies, republics, oligarchies, theocracies, dictorships, monarchies etc can all be tyrannical where the state dominates all aspects of life.

    And likewise all can be non tyrannical where the state is small.

  • Brett L||

    FL gets MOOCs to the dismay of tenured faculty.

    Tom Auxter, the president of the 7,000-member United Faculty of Florida, said "intense and feverish" opposition from faculty helped scale back the plan.

  • Brett L||

    Whoops. This isn't the links thread. Shit.

  • Paul.||

    The author also shows how traditional, top-down, mega-organizations such as labor unions, school districts, charities, and organized religions are losing ground to smaller, nimbler arrangements ranging from worker co-ops to charter schools to micro-lending.

    I think the Catholics are about to discover that with their massive buyout of all things healthcare. These people literally have no idea what they're doing.

  • PapayaSF||

    I can't read the review because it's behind a paywall, but I do like the decentralist theme. I really believe that's a good tactic to take against statists, who so often assume that any positive reform must be done in a centralized, top-down way.

  • Juice||

    Um, all revolutions are "mentality revolutions."

  • Warrren||

    I just finished Naim's Illicit and it was very good. It was mostly a good liberal concern trolling about the loss of control of states over their borders and the massive criminal enterprises that are enabling and exploiting the situation.

    Gave me hope, it did. Not the chapter on sex slavery but most of the rest of the book was fun, happy read.

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