HXA articles

Universal coordination machine

A generalised model helps illustrate coordination's essential antithesis to: fairness, non-coerciveness, liberty promotion, and desertism.

1544 words (8 minutes)


The machine

Imagine that everyone has an ‘app’, which is used like so: you tell it what you want, and what you can offer, and it tells you what it can offer, and what it requests from you – and you consider the choices and strike a deal, or not. And that is how all activity is decided and organised.

Is this not the universal user-interface for coordination, and so by extension, the most abstract outer form of political/economic system? In such a hypothetical there need be no explicit government, no divisions of legislature/judiciary/executive, no services, companies, jobs . . . There would not even be any crime as such, or police, because like all else there are no such designations – it is all merely people doing things, according to offers and requests with the app.

Within the app's workings can be any possible cooperational and distributional strategy and ethic. Each individual's choices are input to the system, and constraints on each individual come from the system, so everyone's actions can be moderated by everyone affected by them. It can coalesce all preferences and diffuse all compliance. Everything could affect everything else, so every combinatorial possibility of coordinative arrangement is expressible.

Comparison to markets

Compared to markets, this is a generalisation, expanding them in both the dimensions and combinations of information they process. With markets, one side of the offer-request chiasma is only money: your request for an offer can be anything, but your offer for a request can only be the scalar value of money. With the app, both channels are general. And secondly, with markets, transactions are bipartite, bridging one person to another, whereas the app enlists everyone. Although you might pause and discern that markets are also universal: in the fungibility of money they have a single unbroken medium that connects everyone and carries everything. But by increasing the information present, the app increases the degree to which that universalisation is realisable.

The app also moves the hard part of economic processing from people to its automated processing – similizesis (similarity finding). Markets are like an abacus, in that they semi-automate price calculation, and by that, resource balancing globally: people add/subtract numbers, but they are conducted by the tools and rules the market provides: money, prices, trade, property. But markets leave the difficult part of the calculatory task to people: similarity finding. Decisions to buy can only be made, and the price nexus exist at all, where there is a capability to evaluate and choose alternative items. Comparing prices is really comparing qualities. The key to it all is not so much price, as similarity. For this markets do nothing, but the app, because of its wider interface, can subsume this work too.


Is it fair?

Every participant's treatment is tailored precisely to them, both in what is asked of them and what they receive – this is the plain opposite of fair. Yet is that bad? What is the point of fairness?

Moral rules, in applying uniformly, are low-resolution, blunt. For example, road traffic lights: you must stop at a red light, but in the middle of the night the roads are empty, and the rule seems malfunctional. Better would be an augmented rule that traffic lights did not apply when roads are empty. But better still would be to go further: a rule that you only have to stop if a car is in front of yours, at that exact moment, in that exact space.

Ideally, it seems that rules should be refined away into momentary decisions on very particular information. So precision and fairness are at odds: to handle cases more precisely is to handle them less uniformly, and so less fairly. (Although, of course, where those cases happen to be the same, that precision will produce a fair response, incidentally.).

What is ‘fairness’ really expressing? The structure of cooperation more deeply. Fairness is sameness, and sameness implies some single underlying structure. Any group motivated by fairness will be induced toward some single common mode of organisation, and by that gain the advantages of cooperation which arise from its realisation of coherence and sharing. We do not want fairness exactly, but what it implies: the conformations that enable us, in a group, to get what we could not alone.

The app is not fair, or at most only in the meagre way that it is the same app all use, yet we might well want it if it coordinates to overall benefit. The deeper question is not of fairness, but whether a proposed system is aggregatively positive.

Is it non-coercive?

It quite resembles the ‘non-coercion’, so said, of market activity: you always choose, just like trade transactions. Yet your choice is always dependent upon what the app stipulates to you, and there is no bound on what it can ask. Can an interaction be voluntary, yet impose unlimited constraint? (And indeed, does not the market do the same with money?). Any demand made on pain of some suffering could be expressed as a free choice: of suffering or not. If such a choice counts as voluntary, then all decision is, and ‘voluntary/non-coercive’ becomes empty.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as voluntary simpliciter, voluntary as absolute: all acts are a meeting, an interaction, of your decision and the external/objective world – that is, something you choose and something you do not, since the external/objective world is necessarily that which is beyond your will. So all willful action is a compromise with circumstance, and without specification of those contextual conditions, ‘voluntary/non-coercive’ is uninformative (and can serve only a rhetorical end).

Is it liberty maximising?

The app tells you what to do in its every usage, so to claim maximal liberty seems a difficult prospect. To have an inarguable maximising of liberty, surely only revocation of all constraint would answer. And in that there would be no system left, nor any other possible, and the point of the whole is lost.

You might submit that the system could yield greater liberty in outcome than before or otherwise reachable. But this must include a sense of weighing the constraints imposed against that result, and so implies a complex idea of liberty. And being then crucially dependent on some other evaluation, liberty is not the principle after all.

Consider liberty defined simply as crude movement potential, along with the proposition of a sophisticated economy: it can restrict behaviour such that it engenders inventions (cars, planes, . . .), so you can then move further in future. Even though the freedom is commensurable, it has been weighted by time: freedom foregone is recompensed by that produced later. Is that not once again complex and dependent? The qualification (of time) overrides.

The bottom line is that the app, or any system, will constrain. To propose a system as liberty-promoting requires a conception of liberty subservient to some other principle. And once the primacy of liberty is ceded, any abridgement of it becomes permissable for some other cause – and is that not the very hazard meant to be safeguarded against?

Is it desertist?

Everything you get is because of your own actions and choices, yet everything you get is given by the app. This second part frankly excludes desert, and one must then wonder how any desertist defense for markets might be mounted . . .

Well, first, who could more justly deserve a thing than they who did it? The lack of any other party leaves it incontestable. Add free/voluntary exchange, and you have an economic – coordinatively beneficial – system consistent with desert. People do not, in a simple way, have exactly and only what they themselves produce, but if it is incontrovertible that doing a thing means you deserve it, so too must be your choosing to give it away, to exchange it. What is wrong there?

To be a system (and offer its compound benefit), there must be constraint of participants that shapes activity overall, otherwise there is only randomness. Here, exchange (and the gains therefrom) is only possible upon the infrastructure of property regulation – if no-one could have stable ownership/control of anything, exchange would be meaningless. And property, as any constraint, is of course not voluntary: if people can choose not to follow a rule, it is not a rule. In which case the system is not convincing as voluntary, because not wholly so. (Is circumscribed freedom not enough? One is free in choosing how to walk around a prison cell – we would not therefore call prison voluntary.). The idea of ‘voluntary exchange’ is only a partial view that hides the foundational mechanism, and so the chain of the argument is broken: desert was not validly translated into cooperative system – people do not have what they have by desert nor a legitimate extension of it.

For a system to coordinate it must implement some ordering above the individual level, and because of that the actions of individuals cannot be wholly ascribed to them – exactly the condition where justification by desert is impossible.



DC: {
   title: "Universal coordination machine",
   creator: "Harrison Ainsworth",

   date: "2018-02-06",

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