2 min read

Top of Mind 6/16/21- Scale

Top of Mind 6/16/21- Scale

I've been thinking a lot about how things can go badly when they scale -when they get too big.

What got me thinking about this was talking with someone who knows I'm usually on the left regarding the vast majority of issues. This person talked about the horrors of "leftist" governments, Russia under Stalin in particular. I think they argued that there had not been an equivalent of Stalin's brutality in liberal democracies (i.e., governments that have democratic elections and capitalism). Therefore liberal democracies are less likely to produce brutal autocratic dictators who use the state's power in horrible ways.

My argument was that both large-scale socialist governments (which can also be democratic) and liberal democracies often are brutal when they become big. Operating at a large scale creates situations where too much power is concentrated and at the hands of a small number of people. The more decentralized the power is among different people or the more smallish scale systems there are working together in concert,  the more difficult it is for one person to get too much power and use it brutally.

The problem, as I see it, is a trade-off.

Concentrating power in the hands of a few allows for faster decision-making and having power shared in more of a peer-to-peer network results in much slower decision-making.

I think one of the biggest advantages to smaller systems is that if a system is small it is more likely that the different actors within the system actually know or encounter one another. I see this as an advantage because I think it is more difficult to make a decision that screws someone over when you actually have to see the effects of you screwing someone over. I also believe it is easier to screw someone over when you don't ever see how you making a decision that screwed them over effects them.  

The short version: If you have to look someone in the eye after you make a decision that hurts them, it becomes more difficult to make a decision that hurts them. When you don't ever need to look the person your decision hurts in the eye, it is way easier to make decisions that hurt others and then sleep at night.