The Trouble With Buying Soldiers...


The US has been continuously outsourcing large segments of its defense, security and intelligence work, including direct on-the-ground war fighting, to for-hire private firms and contractors, known as paramilitary contractors or PMCs.

While many PMCs are ex-military, by offering up their services as a soldier for money outside of the military, they have still crossed a new threshold into a land of marketized contracting: they are now mercenaries working as part of firms and corporations.

Successful firms bestow on their employees a measure of pride and loyalty that functions to provide incentives in the social realm that transcend what money can buy. They make their employees into “insiders.”

The problem is that by taking their skills to the market, PMCs are now more “outsider” rather than “insider” in relation to the nation-state of the United States of America and its government. 

People who are “inside” the system of an organization often need less monetary incentive because they achieve a higher utility by contributing to something which they feel they own a stake in. Those “inside” of an organization are essentially loyal, as they are part of the organizational family. Their orbits around the nourishing sun of the organization’s shared identity give them a social utility that is not easily replicated by simplistic incentives.

Conversely, to those “outside” of an organization, their allegiance to it is much more dependent on monetary and other incentives. People on the outside of the organization are not close to its proverbial sun and need other rewards to nourish themselves.

So where does the loyalty of a PMC lie at the end of the day? 

To the nation that pays him surely! So the US should be able to retain its contractors as long as it has the most capital to spend compared to other groups on Earth. The danger leaps out! A military is the last line of defense of the nation when all other areas are crumbling, but the US government–in a short-sighted desire for efficiency from some and outright corruption from others–is maneuvering itself into a situation where, if the proverbial ship starts to sink, the individuals it currently calls on to fight on its behalf risk being the first to desert. 

Through the 80s to today, the extolled virtue of free-market problem-solving has created an increased marketization of most aspects of life. Now war itself is moving to the market, with money playing a direct role in incentivizing combat activities and actual fighters. This could be disastrous for the security of the United States.

History is filled with examples of mercenaries having flexible loyalty, with Machiavelli arguing against the use of mercenaries for this very reason. As he explained: if mercenaries lose in combat they are useless, and if they win they can become dangerous, since a mercenary force that is stronger than the entity that hired it no longer needs that entity’s financial support, it instead has its own power.

Rome fell because it hired foreign soldiers, but the "mercenaries" were not loyal to Rome. In the year 476 mercenaries under Orestes of Rome revolted under Odoacer and then proceeded to dispose of the last western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus.

Mercenaries will not a military make. Too many of them is a known liability. If the US government intends to buy itself soldiers on the open market at best price, it will find that some day that market will close; perhaps even might buy them right back at gunpoint. 

If a lawmaker is advocating for excessive use of PMCs and continued privatization of the military they are undermining the stability of the very institution they are trying to serve. Some specialized troops for hire are part of the world, but too many risks unbalancing the power of the nation. 




Identity Economics

The Prince

The Blockchain is So Meta, Maybe That's Why I'm So Excited By It

The blockchain seems magical: a system that can verify itself. Distributed trust.

Any problem we have today with high transaction costs to bridge it is easy to imagine bridging the gap with some kind of proof of stake, or work, or reference technology. 

This in many ways is the ultimate continuation of the “control revolution”: creating a money that is not a token so much as a network. Something that knows about itself at all times, allowing transparency of a level never before possible. Truly cybernetic society with feedback loops abounding. Imagine a future built environment more like a forest than a static city: where the environment knows how to grow and adapt to what we need.

Yet this world will not simply happen. And it will not allow us to just escape from existing theoretical and historical realities. We are in complex times and complexity is path dependent. We search the fitness landscape from where we are not where we wish we were - unless we take a random shot at mutation.

As we have seen as the internet has matured, promises of utopia are merely waiting for the other shoe to drop. We live in a Topia, the jungle of reality. Both Dys- and U- versions of topia miss the mark on the full truth, yet they do help us shape our trajectory.

{Toward the Answer Engine: Promise & Peril}

We will have to be on guard for both opportunities and downsides as we navigate the future. Through history we have learned that once systems are in place it is difficult to uproot them. Even new shiny systems emerge from the old.

{Capitalism, The Internet & Network Power}

It's important to ask when trying to use technology for "good" what is it that we mean?

{Interview on Millenial Universe - Using Technology for Good}




There is much to consider as we turn the internet into the cyberspace of fiction.

{A New Economy From AR Visors}

A nose for guiding theories and scientific investigation of base principles will be required. I was fortunate to study at Georgetown's Communication Culture & Technology MA program where I explored standards setting, new economic theory and the limits of the calculable, social network analysis and the evolution of technology, among lots of other amazing trans-disciplinary pursuits.

{Lit Review: Information Flow & Link Formation in Networks - Hidden Metric Spaces}

As our understanding grows we see how to avoid the lazy monopoly scenarios - after all simple experiments show us that inequality is a natural emergent behavior of any economy with unequal starting points. Indeed power laws abound in many areas of our world...

{Beyond Network Feudalism} 

If we do this right, we’ll get to somewhere wonderful:

{100 years from now}

Figures from "The Origin of Wealth" by Beinhocker


Humanity the Super-Organism: Fostering a Realistic Idealism

Humanity the Super-Organism: Fostering a Realistic Idealism

Humanity is an adolescent super-organism. We still lack a broad understanding of ourselves as we are: nodes of a holistic system. Our current journey is one of personal discovery. We humans find ourselves in a systemic environment featuring immense inequality and pockets of persistent violence. Yet even this is only a fleeting moment, temporary equilibria.  If we are to move beyond this moment we must better understand our place within it. "The economy" is not some “other” outside of us, it is us; it is the emergent pattern of our activity. We are the Invisible Hand. Today the system prizes techno-trinkets and abstracted capital wealth; tomorrow it must prize humanity. 

Read More