I read Seeing Like a State recently, I can't remember where I heard about it, but I think I saw someone recommend it on here a year or two ago.
I liked the book a lot, and found it profoundly thought provoking. In my opinion the author (James C. Scott) is a leftist anarchist, which was important in my case; I'm a leftist myself, and seeing arguments for less state control from someone with a leftist perspective made the arguments in the book far more potent to me. Not that I was an authoritarian before (I already had an interest in anarchism), but this book made me question a lot of my views with respect to state control.
On to this essay; I found it interesting once it moved past interpreting Seeing Like a State, and on to its own thesis. I initially found the author's (Lou Keep) interpretation somewhat lacking, in particular the following:
If I had to give a one-sentence explanation of the book, it would be: “The effects of technocracy on a polity are almost always negative.
In my view, this is not at all what Scott is arguing. Scott is arguing that a technocratic overreach is bad, and arguing against the modernist idea of central planning for society as a whole. He is, however, not arguing that central planning is a bad thing in general; rather he is arguing that trying to apply central planning to everything is foolish and hubristic.
To Keep's credit, he does later go on to write:
Scott is not writing anything as simple as “Big Government is always awful“
So I do believe that he understands more than he initially lets on.
The idea of legibility is certainly one which had a strong influence on me, and Keep's take on the concept is interesting, and a good companion to the book.
So this is what churches do in our language: they’re probably the single most important economic institution in rural America. Period.
I know how to argue for cultural conservatives to my left-wing, coastal audience. But how do you think the average actual conservative argues for that? “Faith”, “family values”, “God”, i.e., irrationally.
Fine – all that means is that In the final analysis, the conservative christian recognizes that they’re being deprived even of the power to complain, which is to say, even of the power to explain their powerlessness.
A very powerful point. The fact that communities may suffer, but not know the technocratic language that they need to employ in order to be heard by those in power, I think is a strong argument for more decentralised power. If a person trained in the language of economics, social science, etc (for example a local politician), is there to see for themselves what is going on, they can speak on behalf of the local population in a way that they can't speak for themselves. Ideally the local politicians would possess the power to do something about the problem.
Some issues are better solved through centralised planning (public transport infrastructure, electricity grids, etc, this is also argued by Scott), but trying to control everything based on general statistics simply will not work. A number such as GDP does not tell you enough about the struggles individuals and businesses are going through in their day to day lives. Nobody lives in an average. And if people do not have the power necessary to fix things which are invisible to the national government, this will cause innumerable problems.
Unlike a lot of Americans, I am not that sceptical of "Big Government". I'm from Scandinavia, where I have seen the government do wonderful things for the country as a whole. Give me big, responsible, government over deregulated small government capitalism any day. But I'm beginning to think that "Big Government" can only be so big before it becomes impossible for it to govern effectively. The country I'm from (Norway) has a small population of about 5 Million. In the US "Big Government" means someone ruling over 350 Million people. That's a staggering difference. How could anyone POSSIBLY understand the conditions of 350 million people, let alone come up with policies that would effectively improve people's lives across the board, when the different states have completely different challenges to overcome?
I'm currently torn between this consideration, and the problems we're currently seeing due to globalisation. Now that large corporations are multinational, they can effectively do almost anything they want by simply finding a country that will let them do it. They can operate in multiple countries at once, putting their tax duties in a country with low tax, putting their production in a country that will let them exploit workers, and putting their headquarters in a country where the executives would like to live. How can we counter this without a form of "World Government" putting in regulation to reign in these excesses? Conversely, how can we have a world government without them ending up having too much influence into issues they have no understanding about, causing huge damage in the process?
I really don't know.