The Vacuum Clap

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.

–Saul Alinsky

Nature and politics abhor a vacuum.  The moment a newly formed vacuity opens the resulting space is filled with the first onrush of whatever commodity is directly adjacent.   If authority is missing from a power structure it will quickly be occupied by multiple players looking to occupy that power vacuum, almost always with intense and sudden conflict.  Why, after 12 centuries of relative safety, was Rome conquered by the the Goths, the Huns, and the Vandals all within 4 decades?  It was because of the sudden void created by the absence of Rome’s ability to project power.  I call this sudden destructive collision caused by unexpected power gap the vacuum clap.

The ramifications of these vacuum claps can ripple for a long long time after the initial cause.  How many of the current geo-polical problems are a direct result of the sudden “clap” that resulted from abdication of European imperialist influence.  Notice how the resulting fallout happens regardless of the justice or morality of the cause of the vacuum!  It doesn’t matter that imperialism legitimately HAD to end; there were going to be violent ramifications resulting from the sudden change for decades (and centuries) to come.

Regulation created your income disparity.  The removal of regulation created your financial crisis.

— Author Unknown

Where this comes to play most on the intra-national scale seems to be in the area of state regulatory policy.   The creation of laws (regardless if they are good or bad) create an artificial “scaffolding” around a pattern of behaviors.  Instead of behavior progressing natural based on mutual interaction (again, good or bad) the behavior is artificial.  This is exacerbated by incentives that may come into direct conflict with the intended behaviors creating black markets, legal opportunist, and artificial ancillary effects.  The spread of the car culture is as much a product of government profit regulation in the passenger rail market as it is the government construction of the interstate system.

So artificial vacuums created by regulation are a problematic, but then imagine the problems created by removing those controls.  When the “scaffolding” is kicked out, even if the scaffolding was an objective bad thing, the result is an almost certain crash.  In the normal ebb and flow of markets, a natural equilibrium eventually takes hold*  but removing bureaucracy always creates a vacuum that markets will suddenly (and often destructively) will try to fill.

This is one reason why even bad laws are difficult to remove.  When critics say that getting rid of regulation will cause havoc, they are generally correct.  Of course, most of the time the regulation is demonstrably bad and often even counter-productive to the intended purpose.**  This brings about the worst in government.  The endlessly expanding dregs of our failed attempts at law, never to be removed because the pain of pulling off the bandage is worse than the slow pain of infection.

Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are.

–Oscar Wilde

How do we shorten the time it takes for a new equilibrium after the resulting void?  My gut reaction is that the better the feedback mechanism the faster a state of balance will occur.  On the macro level this can be exceedingly difficult.  Using the imperialism example from above, notice how feedback isn’t spread equally among all the constituents.  England was more concerned with the collapse of imperialism that its colonies were, but isn’t nearly as effected by the results of that debacle.

Ultimately the best solution is to never create such voids in the first place.  In the realm of intra-national regulation it is obvious to point out that our attempts at a solution are often worse than the original symptom,  especially in the long run.  In the area of international governments the way to preempt such voids is to limit the use of force on other peoples, countries, and nations.  Power never spent will not create a vacuum.***


*In actuality the ebb and flow always continue because nothing ever stays the same and markets are always trying to innovate.  Part of the problem with laws is that they never innovate.

** How many billions of tons of CO2 have been created by regulating ethanol production?

*** My favorite definition of injustice is “Injustice is the abuse of power; force used against the unwilling.  Using power or authority to take from others their life, liberty, dignity, or the fruits of their love or their labor”