1. Philosopher John R. Searle’s The Making of the Social World, published in 2010. One excerpt:
How do governments, so to speak, get away with it? That is, how does the government manage to be accepted as a system of status functions superior to other status functions?. . .governmental power is a system of status functions and thus rests on collective recognition or acceptance, but the collective recognition or acceptance, though typically not itself based on violence, can continue to function only if there is a permanent threat of violence
…All political power is a matter of status functions, and for that reason all political power is deontic power.
For some reason, my brain keeps wanting to read “deontic” as “demonic.”
Anyway, I think of a status function as a social convention that assigns people or objects certain properties. I think of a deontic power as a right or obligation.
So, imagine a busy intersection. We could put up a traffic light and by general consent give it a status function to regulate traffic flow. Or we could let an individual direct traffic. For the status function to work, we need to be willing to follow the social convention of obeying the signals, either from the stoplight or from the individual.
Next, suppose that we recognize that the individual wears a uniform and a badge, and we recognize that the individual is permitted to impose fines on people who do not obey. These are stronger deontic powers, and they will deter drivers from trying to cheat the system. We can think of that move as a metaphor for government by consent (although the consent may not be explicit or universal).
As of this writing, I have yet to finish the book. By the time this post goes up, I may have finished a first read, but the book will require some re-reading. It seems to me that Searle is likely to turn out to be on my side of a disagreement with Michael Huemer.
2. Ryan Avent’s new book (not yet out) The Wealth of Humans. I attended a discussion of the book the other night. As the conversation jumped around, I found myself frequently thinking, “Show me the model.” That is out of character for me, because I have spent a lot of the last few years criticizing economists’ use of formal models. But as people tried to speculate about capital accumulation, wealth distribution, and productivity differentials, I found that I could not follow what was being said. I needed to think in terms of supply and demand curves crossing, income adding up to output, and output equal to labor input times output-per-worker. It was hard to get that in a purely verbal discussion, particularly when people were speaking extemporaneously.