The Slide To Collapse Is Greased With Self-Interest

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

Self-interest is intrinsically self-liquidating on a systemic level.

One enduring if rarely stated principle of Neoliberal Democracy is that the single-minded pursuit of self-interest magically produces an equilibrium which serves everyone's interests well enough to avoid the destabilization of rebellion or systemic collapse.

Let's start by defining Neoliberal Democracy: neoliberalism sees markets as the only efficient, fair and durable method of organizing resource extraction and the social order: governance, employment, distribution of income, etc. Turning every social and economic function into a marketplace ensures that market forces provide the discipline and transparency participants need to make prudent choices and investments.
Democracy is a political marketplace in which votes replace investor and consumer decisions as the mechanisms that enforce discipline and transparency.
The melding of these two ideologies is clearly natural, as both see a transparent market as the best possible system for both governance and and the economy.
The key characteristic of a market is that all participants exclusively pursue their own self-interest. No one need sacrifice their own self-interest for the good of the whole system because by definition the system of competing interests naturally organizes itself to maximize the choices of each individual and the equilibrium of the system.
The transparency, fairness and stability offered by this ideological system is very compelling: the advantages of a system that transparently discovers the price of everything while offering roughly equal opportunity to all participants to seek self-fulfillment (i.e. the pursuit of happiness) via a dogged focus on self-interest are self-evident.
Looking out for Number One is thus the foundation not just of personal self-aggrandizement but of systemic stability and fairness.
But let's move from ideological abstraction to the pragmatic--what happens in the real world? What we find in the real world is that participants seek to transfer their own risk to others while minimizing their productive work and maximizing their gain/skim.
Risk inevitably introduces the possibility of loss--both fair and unfair. Let's say a participant in the market invests in a scheme to produce the Acme Brand widget. 
Unfortunately, the widget fails to find a market and the enterprise closes its doors. The investors lose their investment: this is fair because any enterprise in a market is at risk of losing favor from changes in fashion or the emergence of more agile competitors.
Unfair risk is loss incurred through no fault of one's own. Let's say an employee of Acme Widget Corporation gave his all to the company, and was laid off anyway--not through some failing in his efforts or talents but as a result of dynamics beyond his control: the marketplace found little value in the Acme Widget.
The rational, self-interested participant will naturally seek to offload risk of loss to other participants. Employees of the state (i.e. the government) transfer most of the risk of being laid off to the larger group of taxpayers: in a recession, the state can raise taxes on everyone in the system to guarantee its employees get paid. In effect, the risk of loss is distributed to everyone paying taxes in order to guarantee the employment of state employees.
Financiers have learned that making bets big enough to render their enterprise too big to fail effectively transfers the risk of loss to the taxpayers. We see the same mechanism in action: those who manage to transfer the risk of loss to others guarantee their self-interest can be pursued risk-free.
The rational, self-interested participant will also naturally seek to minimize his productive contribution while maximizing his income/gain. The state employee will (for example) game the system to retire early on a fake disability claim, or manage to evade work, accountability or responsibility with little risk of loss because the system makes firing a slacker employee almost impossible.
A financier will use free money for financiers issued by the Federal Reserve to buy assets everyone needs to live: private water systems, rental homes, parking meters, etc.--what are known as rentier assets because the financier isn't adding or creating any value in his ownership; he is skimming a fee from those who pass through the gate he owns.
The rational, self-interested participant will minimize his own expenses and maximize his income/gain by exploiting the commons--assets shared by all participants. The rational, self-interested participant will thus let his sheep out into the common pasture to graze for free, dump his waste into the river and the smoke from his works into the air, all free of charge.
This dynamic of everyone pursuing their own self-interest destroying the commons was articulated by Garrett Hardin in his paper The Tragedy of the Commons.
There is another dynamic at work called tyranny of the majority.
Imagine a ship with 100 passengers and crew drifting down a river that eventually cascades over a 1,000 foot waterfall. It's easy to plot the ship's course and the waterfall ahead. You might think 100% of those onboard would agree that something drastic must be done to either reverse course or abandon ship, but before we jump to any conclusion we must first identify what each of the 100 people perceive as serving their self-interest.
If life onboard is good for 60 of the 100, they may well rationalize away the waterfall dead ahead. Why risk the treacherous river currents by abandoning ship? As a result, the majority vote to tweak the ship's course slightly, thus dooming the 40 others who can hear the thundering cascade ahead but who are powerless to change course in a democracy.
This is the tyranny of the majority feared by some of the American Founding Fathers.
If 60% of the voting public is dependent on government spending, then they will vote to continue that spending regardless of its unsustainability, source or unfairness to those who will suffer most when the entire contraption collapses in a heap.
To the degree that government revenue is a form of public commons, then the siphoning of that resource to serve individual gain leads to the loss of the commons, as well as the loss of any notion of the common good.
With 60 of the 100 voting to continue the present course of State borrowing and spending to support their piece of the largesse, the ship is doomed to end up in pieces at the bottom of the waterfall, despite the utter obviousness of the catastrophe just ahead.
In other words, democracy functions when a sustainable equilibrium can be maintained with slight adjustments in course/policy. But when a dramatic change of course is required to save the system, a change that upends all the rentier skims and redistributes risk of loss to all those who reckoned they'd successfully offloaded all risk onto others, then there is no political support for the necessary radical change of course.
Those collecting a piece of State spending will vote to keep the ship firmly heading for the waterfall, because they fear the consequences of changing course or abandoning ship. Any radical change of course reintroduces the risk of loss that each self-interested participant offloaded onto the system itself.
Enterprises that haven't offloaded risk or secured guarantees from the State are forced to make radical changes when their survival demands it. Recent history is full of examples of corporations that were riding high and then failed to change course radically enough; those companies lost their way and were acquired for a sliver of their former value.
The political marketplace of democracy fails when the State has transferred risk and guaranteed the skim of enough voters.
The political marketplace of democracy also fails because self-interest is best served by influencing the State to protect one's private rentier skims and gains.The highest-leverage, highest-return investment is buying political favors and influence from politicos.
If average citizens could buy a semi-permanent escape from taxes for, say, a $20,000 "contribution" to the right politico, anyone with a tax burden of $10,000 or more annually would make this easy calculation: in a single decade, I'm going to pay $100,000 in taxes if I do nothing. If I buy the political favor for $20,000, I will save $80,000 over a decade.
That's a four-fold yield (400% return) on the initial investment. Where else can you reap that kind of guaranteed return?
It turns out to be remarkably easy to evade the transparency required to make democracy and the market function fairly. The political favor is buried in hundreds of pages of legalese jargon in a legislative bill or regulatory statutes. No one will ever discover the favor unless they know where to look.
Self-interest is intrinsically self-liquidating on a systemic level, something I analyze in depth in Resistance, Revolution, Liberation, for without an understanding of the distorting mechanisms of self-interest, we cannot understand why people will continue supporting a visibly imploding Status Quo: they will do so as long as they are getting a piece of that Status Quo that is free to them.

This is how systems collapse: those who have offloaded risk (a.k.a. skin in the game) to the system itself and guaranteed their job, income, pension or rentier skim via the State will continue to support the Status Quo that has benefited them so handsomely even as the ship tumbles over the waterfall to its destruction.


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RiskyBidness's picture

Whats in it for Ebama!!  The first dumb black president......Those that voted for this jackass have insured the destruction of the US from the inside!!

gatorboat's picture

Anyone voting for O has a 3rd world mentality anyway, so living in 3rd world conditions O will bring to America should be no problem.

That's the core problem, most Americans these days have a 3rd world mentality, "just git all I can git for me, screw everybody else".

It's why America isn't worth saving.  Americans have turned to shit.

SoberOne's picture

Is it me or are some comments dissappearing today?

rogerramjet's picture


Have you bought new sheets for your KU KLUK KLAN outfitfit yet?

rogerramjet's picture

Burning Cross kits avaliable at $29.95!   Ten percent (10%) discount for KKK members.  Must show membership card.

ZH Snob's picture

what the elitist have done is to stack the deck in their favor, thus destroying any formerly fair market with a manipulated one that makes their self-interest the loudest voice of all.  this is destructive to all facets of life, the very definition of facism.

grunk's picture


Infects everything he touches.

SelfGov's picture

So this can all be blamed on the rugged individualists who cherish private property over all else.

I knew it. :)


I still blame resource depletion though...

TheReplacement's picture

A free market would account for resource depletion.  A free market with hundreds of millions of people making uncountable numbers of decisions based on what is best for the individual is the ONLY natural mechanism for enforcing variation.  Variation is the only thing that guarantees the species survival against non-world ending events.


Oscar Mayer's picture

Well, if you believe in free markets then you should drop that bullshit ideology of Capitalism, because it's all about the capture and subjugation of markets.  Humans gather together and form societies for the primary purpose of mitigating economic competition.  Capitalism is all about artificially instigating economic competition, which destroys society from the bottom up by consolidating control over economic resources until only the top remains.  That's also why true Capitalists (not you, you're just a dumbass) support the welfare state and the magic of bankster credit creation.  We need to get back to a true Free/Private Enterprise market economy, guided by enlightened self-interest, and honest money.

TheReplacement's picture

Duoble post.  Bad connection.


Cognitive Dissonance's picture

The definition of a good 'deal' is one where neither side feels they got exactly what they wanted, but no one is suffering great pain. On the flip side, what "We the People" have been experiencing over the last few decades, and particularly since the turn of the century, is what they call a unilateral agreement where one party can make changes without the consent of the other. It makes for lopsided agreements and eventually a dissolution of the that revolution in this case.

Spastica Rex's picture

"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."

- Ayn Rand

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

At one time the powerful were kind enough to offer us the illusion of government asking for forgiveness rather than for permission. Even that illusion is no longer sustained.

Amish Hacker's picture

No more happy face for dot gov, CD. The masks are coming off, and what follows, historically, is the application of naked power and control, without pretending there's some veneer of democratic process.

JRobby's picture

Such a forceful woman. Alan just loves her.

Landrew's picture

Strange isn't it, Ayn Rand died living on welfare. I guess she didn't  live by her stated principles, just liked writing stories?

PoliticalRefugeefromCalif.'s picture


So that means her many pointed and astute observations are of no value because she was human?

..let me do a little research on your life, I bet I can come up with a shitload of inconsistencies along with precious little insight.

Raging Debate's picture

CD - Correct. Even Larry Summers called for a new social contract. Believe that was 2010.

Seasmoke's picture

You should have realized this when those with no skin in the game, were allowed to steal your houses and call it foreclosure. 

813kml's picture

Banksters have all skin in the game:  YOURS

rogerramjet's picture

Threw the family in the street.  Foreclosed on the house and then sold it at a profit for the bank.  Love capitalism.....

LawsofPhysics's picture

Wrong.  "Full faith and credit" bitchez...


What is the actual product of your labor, is it of real value?


Fuck the motherfucking paper-pushers...

TalkToLind's picture

Here is THE biggest clue that we are steaming full speed towards that 1000 foot waterfall:

The MSM NEVER reports on this.

q99x2's picture

Any self respecting murdering military would have taken the self-interested globalists as enemies and used the national stability thereby created to increase their coffers. Instead the UN's mercenary forces, also known as the US military, is laying off thousands of Captains and hundreds of Majors.

Time for another bankster to jump please.

Muh Raf's picture

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - you can't cheat karma, Karma Chameleon that is.

krispkritter's picture

Reminds me of that old BB cartoon where DD is screaming "Mine! Mine! It's all mine!..."

Augmenting the FSA with an open border, millions of Public pensioners, and millions of Public employees... Vote "It's All Mine 2016".

TalkToLind's picture

I've always liked the part where the genie reduces Daffy down to the size of a mosquito;  then Daffy chases after a pearl which is now the size of a beach ball to him.  He thinks he's rich because the pearl is huge.  He doesn't realize that HE has shrank.  It works exactly the same way when the Fed reduces the value of its fiat currency with endless printing and the creation of digital currency from nowhere.  It sucks but why should they care?   The sheeple continue to fall for it just like Daffy Duck did.

Ghordius's picture

the gist of this article is the old "what if the people find out they can give themselves free money". it's a fine starting point for a debate, yet I'm irked by this:

"Democracy is a political marketplace in which votes replace investor and consumer decisions as the mechanisms that enforce discipline and transparency."

if the US political system is supposed to be like a "political marketplace", then sorry, it's a market with an oligopoly

then there are two parties only, and no alternative

oligopolies are a hallmark and tell tale sign of corrupted markets. and the reasons for this corruption are twofold: machine politics coupled with redistricting and inadequate, creaking old voting systems which allow only one voice to be heard... that of the winner

add political funding laws as the icing on the cake...

machine politics is very difficult to eradicate. but voting systems are easy. some european countries are constantly tinkering with theirs. when was the last time the US added an Amendment to it's Constitution again?

NoDebt's picture

Why mess with perfection, baby?


But if you think passing new amendments, laws or tweaking voting procedures is going to fix what's happening, you're kidding yourself.  We have always been oligopolistic in our near-uninterrupted 2-party structure since the Constitution was written.  It worked reasonably well for a pretty long time, but now it doesn't.  What changed?  Not the structure to any great degree.  What happened is exactly as feared- we have reached the tipping point where too many are dependent on the government (from welfare queens to multinational corporations) as they vote themselves gains and special favors from the public coffers.  

Successful countries always proceed from more conservative to more liberal.  Never the other direction.  The other direction would never win anybody an election.  But it will eventually win them a revolution.

Ghordius's picture

your's is exactly the attitude I'm railing against. corruption is a matter of degrees, with tipping points. what you have today is not the political system of twenty or one hundred years ago. in fact, it was the XVII Amendment that radically changed how your country functions, as much as the "political money" laws of the last years

your country is unique in the belief that there are only two ideologies, or that "progress" is unidirectional from "conservative" to "liberal" with revolutionary resets... even though you are the only nation that even uses this terminology... in a radical different way from all the others

have a look what liberals, conservatives and socialists are, in the rest of the world. you'd be surprised

El Vaquero's picture

Try the 16th Amendment and Wickard v Filburn.  Party politics are bullshit, but if you want to see where the rubber meets the road on the federal government going full retard, those are some important events.  The politics was corrupt before the 17th amendment.  The 16th Amendment and Wickard v Filburn are two events that allowed the federal government to usurp as much power as it has.  Without that power, things would look a lot different.

KickIce's picture

In order for our system to work lady justice must be blind; unfortunately lady justice has become nothing but a whore, from the Supreme Court which has transformed itself into another arm of the Executive branch to any of the lower courts where the wealthy can buy favors.  The system also relies on compromise to get things accomplished, compromise enough and you forget where you started which I think is why Jefferson stated that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."  The bailouts are a prime example where the system should have reset on its own but where the oligarchs and politicians stepped in to save their own skins all cloaked, of course, in the cover of the American flag.

Self interest (imo a good thing) and immoral people have been around from the beginning of time, in order for a society to be successful a a society must first recognize corruption (Again Jefferson "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." and "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.") and then properly deal with said corruption.

Oscar Mayer's picture

The political structure of the U.S. was dramatically changed by the Article 5 violating, unconstitutional 17th non-Amendment.  That changed us from a correcting and manageable Republic into a insane Democracy, locking into place the single purpose, two party system.  The state's repudiation of the unlawful 17th and seating their selection of senators would go a long way in a start to alleviating our oligarchic induced problems.  Keep in mind; Senators selected by, and answerable to, state's legislators do not need campaign contributions.

malek's picture

The previous responders fell into the usual convenient thinking of tipping points and single-causes.

What changed?

The language was redefined until it meant what the meddlers wanted it to mean.
Very prescient by George Orwell, and his most important point in "1984" (not universal surveillance.)

The Wizard's picture


Very astute obervations. If the waters appear to be unknown and too treacherous, it may be safer to stay on the ship with the captain hoping he can save it from disaster. Most people will place more value on the captain's expertise than their own intuition.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

The cult of (worshiping) authority.

ThroxxOfVron's picture

"The cult of (worshiping) authority."

Observation # 1: many of the passengers/sheeple have been hauled on board agaisnt their will and locked in the hold like the farm animals that they are regarded as by the bureaucrats/crew and rentier collaborators; and are being lied to about the course, destination, intended duration, and hazards of the journey.  


Observation #2: The distractions engineered by the bureaucracy/crew and rentier collaborators include all the cherished religeous and ideological and social customs and exuberent condemnations of victemless crimes that the state/ship should be preculuded from addressing in any manner in the first place.

Amish Hacker's picture

Authority is respected because it allows the individual to offload his personal responsibility onto the captain. And usually, if the captain has any integrity at all, his expertise carries the day better than the passengers' emotional responses would have. But sometimes you find yourself on the Concordia...

falak pema's picture

Self Interest is John Galtism par excellence.

The ideal hero of industrious self aggrandisement, the ULTIMATE aim of humanity. 

We revere "going Galt" and refusing to pay marginal income tax that exceeds 8%, like Apple does! No more handouts to the needy. 

CHS is now being forced to burn his own iconic matinee idol created by Ayn Rand. 

If democracy were the fiction where only the exercise of "market impulses" reign, which by definition are short term --something that fits the agenda of a populist politician who loves to feed the knee jerks of his constituents--, then all reference to perennial values, such as rule of law and respect of ethics, becomes collateral of practical expediency whose loss can be compensated for by a CDS instrument ! 

Hey Mr Tambourine play me a song on moral hazard now blowing in the wind. 

Renfield's picture

<<without an understanding of the distorting mechanisms of self-interest, we cannot understand why people will continue supporting a visibly imploding Status Quo: they will do so as long as they are getting a piece of that Status Quo that is free to them.>>

And therein lies the hope. At some point the system stops benefitting the majority, then the significant minority. Meanwhile the disadvantaged side gradually crowds up, until it reaches a tipping point of power.

There is no chance for a "global government". There is no logic that supports the concept. There are only shifts in power, and we are undergoing a big one now which of course takes a few years. Those who think any market "goes up forever" have not thought through hyperinflation.

I think as powerless peasants our goals in life (these days) should be simple: 1) survival and 2) integrity. During a collapse, these may be mutually exclusive but only for the (painful) short term. In short, we should just try to stay out of the way and avoid being co-opted, by anyone.

mastersnark's picture

The corollary to the above is "The minority must then volunteer to be bound by the majority rule."

The whole system is dependent on continued obedience by the minority and the moment they say "no" we have Lexington and Concord 1775.

ThroxxOfVron's picture

"The political marketplace of democracy also fails because self-interest is best served by influencing the State to protect one's private rentier skims and gains.The highest-leverage, highest-return investment is buying political favors and influence from politicos."

Lobbying and payola, carve-outs and exemptions, aren't features of a healthy democracy but are distinctly associated with fully private transactions of various flavors.  Private rentier income streams derived specifically from the commons are indicative of oligarchy disguised as democracy.

Of course this does not preclude the failings of democracy itself as described:

"If 60% of the voting public is dependent on government spending, then they will vote to continue that spending regardless of its unsustainability, source or unfairness to those who will suffer most when the entire contraption collapses in a heap."


Emergency Ward's picture

Is it axiomatic that government corruption is democracy in action?

messymerry's picture

We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us...  'nuff said.

PeeramidIdeologies's picture

Prefect example of how the "state" transfers it's obligations unto an unaccountable identity. They simply imply though manipulated statistics that said investment was unable to provide enough return to cover all participants and sadly we've been forced to choose "winners' and 'losers'.
Being that you haven't legal discourse to support your claim, you are a loser.

What a fuckin joke

Dr. Engali's picture

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.” 

Alexis de Tocqueville



“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” 

Alexis de Tocqueville
icanhasbailout's picture

Lumbricus Terrestris appears to be undergoing a vector modification

GreaterFool1965's picture

Carly Fiorina ripping into US tax and regulatory structure live CNBS.  "crony capitalism is the combination of big business, big government and big labor all being able to handle big complexity.  And so what's happening in this economy is, yes big businesses are understandably complaining about an environment that is no longer competitive globally, but in fact big businesses are doing far better than small businessses."  She earlier also made the point that the Fed's policies have helped big businesses, and in general 'equity owners', while hurting small businesses and Main St.

Imagery's picture

Big Biz is doing MUCH better than small biz 'cause small biz, just like individuals, have no paid whores on K Street bribing US Congressmen on the take.....just as CHS says!