No More James Bonds: The State’s Talent Problem

Say you’re an international master-spy, your charm and confidence surpassed only by your marksmanship, poise, and gambling acumen. Do you want to work for today’s CIA?

Hm those benefits are compelling…

Or perhaps you’re a hacker. You can code up or take down any software or infrastructure system in the world. Are you scrolling through “opportunities” with the NSA?

How will the answer to these questions be different in 10 years?

In the old world, such agencies offered tremendous opportunity. You would have the best technological resources, the highest budgets, prestige, and the knowledge that what you were doing mattered.

In today’s world?

I spy on taxpayers and destabilize entire nations, dammit!

Today these agencies — and so many others like them— must compete with the entire hive mind of the internet. The NSA was embarrassed by a Booz Allen contractor. The CIA is just another talking head on broadcast media, (with centralized media another old-world institution struggling with its limited influence in an increasingly tech-savvy world).

I’m happy the United States had competent professionals working tirelessly to create any reduction in the odds of a nuclear war, or defend Berlin from the USSR, or prove Western ICBM competence by putting a frickin’ human on the moon.

Today, though, anybody with goals like this can have more influence in the private sector.

We’ve been paying taxes and increasing government spending for so long now that there is no longer a real expectation of value returned. Large expenses have been great investments before, but the still-accelerating Keynesian worldview justifies large expenses by virtue of their largeness alone.

My high school history teacher, an excellent educator and self-professed Cuba-loving “too left to talk about it” PhD, had this to say about taxes (paraphrased):

Everyone complains about taxes. But deep down, they know that it’s the cost of civilization.

There is some truth to this. The Cost of Civilization, though, has been rapidly outpacing inflation.

What happens when humans bootstrap civilizations that are not subject to old world controls?

We’re all about to find out.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them Alfred North Whitehead

Humans have gone through a multi-millenia transition from chiefs and tribes to institutions and nation states. We’ve seen lots of important things come from institutions, but more and more their operations are exclusively those “which we can perform without thinking about them.” Great for humans. Bad for government sinecures.

A practical example

This is already happening with the Federal Reserve (institution) and Bitcoin (protocol).

The Fed has two mandates:

  1. Maximize employment
  2. Stabilize prices

It’s questionable whether or not having a group of humans wear costumes and artificially set interest rates in back rooms has anything to do with these mandates, but we’ll table that for now. No disruptive competitor has existed since the Fed came into being in 1914. There have been other institutional competitors, sure, like the Bank of England or the Bank of Japan. But these have been subject to the same HOA-style power problems as the Fed.

Bitcoin, too, may end up being worse than the Fed. People may decide they prefer spiraling depressions and vacuous prognosticating for another 100 years.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m not checking their job board, either.

At the time of this post, 1 BTC traded for $1014.34 on Coinbase