Saturday, October 30, 2010

48 Laws of Power

I haven't read the book yet, but I will list a number of reviews and references I found interesting.

The 48 Laws of Power is a Machiavelli-style self-help book grounded in a extensive review of classical history. By Robert Green, published in 1998, 450 pages long.

Massachusetts prison inmates demanded the book on a daily basis, according to a recent memoir by a prison librarian, even though it was censored from the prison library. Here's a link to a balanced review of the 48 Laws. And here is a list of the laws with quick summaries.


What would happen if more people behaved according to the 48 laws? If we all became more "rational actors" in terms of maximizing our power?

Many of the laws would support a positive economic outcome through increased productivity:
Law 9 Win through your actions, never through argument
Law 18 Do not build fortresses to protect yourself. Isolation is dangerous
Law 23 Concentrate your forces
Law 25 Re-create yourself
Law 28 Enter action with boldness
Law 29 Plan all the way to the end
Law 40 Despise the free lunch

One law even provides for better economic welfare through modifying personal preferences.
Law 36 Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best revenge

However, Law 11 does prescribe a real dead-weight-loss behavior.
Law 11 Learn to keep people dependent on you

And, there is a general emphasis on distrust, disloyalty, and the destruction of existing institutions.
Law 2 Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
Law 3 Conceal your intentions
Law 10 Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky
Law 14 Pose as a friend, work as a spy
Law 15 Crush your enemy totally
Law 20 Do not commit to anyone
Law 33 Discover each man's thumbscrew
Law 42 Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter

So, if everyone in a community starts trying to become 48 law powermongers, individual productivity will increase, but institutions and bonds of loyalty will suffer.

This fleshes out some of the mechanisms limiting the useful prescription of "neoliberal" economic policy, qualifying the conclusions of Ayn Rand's "objectivism". Individual self-interest improves productivity, but we need inclusive humanism to keep Feudalism away.

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