Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

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Scott, James C.. 1999. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press.


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A book flawed by a libertarian viewpoint of the state as enemy. The principles within apply equally well to any large bureaucracy, especially large corporations. Misdirects from the fact that governments DO improve the human condition. Also flawed in not presenting origins of the ideas in the works of others.


Do People Really Dislike the State So Much? [More...]
A reversal of one point of "Seeing like a State": "Rather than fleeing from the state and resisting it, ordinary people are demanding the expansion of its authority in order to attain freedom from arbitrary and coercive local elites."
Legibility and Control: Themes in the Work of James C. Scott [More...]
Puts much of Scott's work in context of Bentham, Foucault, E.P. Thompson, Polanyi and Hayek. Explains why large-scale producers can be inefficient and suppress innovation.
Scott versus Hayek [More...]
Henry Farrell points out that the arguments made in Seeing like a State also refute Hayek's claims for market use of metis, because standardization destroys metis.
Seeing Like a Movie Mogul [More...]
"But Seeing Like a State reminds us that the creation of new property rights can sometimes be a process of expropriation, with the state inventing new rights to transfer wealth to parties with political power." Examples include the DMCA and software patents.


We need a book like "Seeing Like A State" written about corporations. To a corporations, employees are like cows. Costly inputs to be milked and slaughtered for profit.
Mike Huben, "Mike Huben's Criticisms"
Nevertheless, as I endeavor to make clear, large-scale capitalism is just as much an agency of homogenization, uniformity, grids, and heroic simplification as the state, with the difference that, for capitalists, simplification must pay. The profit motive compels a level of simplification and tunnel vision that, if anything, is more heroic that the early scientific forest of Germany. In this respect, the conclusions I draw from the failures of modern social engineering are as applicable to market-driven standardization as they are to bureaucratic homogeneity.
James Scott, "The Trouble with the View from Above"