“I think there is going to be double, triple, quadruple countries in the coming years,” Andreessen told Sarah Lacy at Thursday night’s PandoMonthly in San Francisco.
The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning, by Lant Pritchett. In short, it is an informed polemic against top-down, state-run school systems in underdeveloped countries, notably India. Tyler Cowen mentioned it, but otherwise it has received no play anywhere. Maybe it is just too contrary to conventional wisdom for people to grasp.
It is possibly the best book I have read this year. It immediately vaults onto the list of libertarian classics. This is in addition to being an important book about education in underdeveloped countries.
I will have to finish it and then re-read it before writing a more comprehensive review.
Undoubtedly the nonlibertarian will respond that government officials were duly elected by the people according to the Constitution, or hired by those so elected. Thus they may do what is prohibited to you and me. This reply is inadequate. If you and I admittedly have no right to tax and regulate others, how could we delegate a nonexistent right to someone else through an election? Obviously, we can’t.
Read the whole thing to get the context. Or read Michael Huemer’s book to get an even lengthier treatment of the argument.
I think that most people want their own liberty, but they fear the liberty of others. I like to use the acronym FOOL, which stands for Fear Of Others’ Liberty. I think that many of us are FOOLs. I count myself a FOOL, at least to some extent.
Once you are a FOOL, then you may be willing, yea, eager, to delegate the job of constraining someone else’s liberty. We don’t all want to be policemen or prison guards, but most of us are glad that there are people doing those jobs.
If I delegate the job of constraining someone else’s liberty, then, unless I happen to be a despot, those who have the power to constrain someone else’s liberty have the power to constrain my liberty as well. That is roughly what we mean by equality before the law.
In short, I think it is reasonable not to be persuaded to become a libertarian by the sort of arguments Huemer or Richman make. Instead, a FOOL can say, “I do not want violent criminals running around free. I want to delegate to someone else the power to arrest and incarcerate them. I understand that this power might be used against me, but I am willing to live with that.”
Consider Paul Romer:
Across the world, public safety is the most important task facing city governments. In many poor countries, crime holds back the kind of urbanization essential for economic development. Closer to home, Detroit shows us that if they can, people will flee a city that fails to provide basic public safety.
Of course, one day you concede to the government the power to arrest and incarcerate violent criminals, and the next thing you know you have created an institution with the power to penalize people who sign contracts that provide “inadequate health insurance.”
It frustrates me that there are so many FOOLs who support the government using its power to penalize people who sign such contracts, or to penalize people who sell big-gulp soft drinks, or what have you. In short, whatever consensus that might have once existed in favor of limited government has evaporated.
Sometimes, the FOOLs want what amounts to despotism. It happened to Germany in 1933. There seems to be an echo today in Venezuela (the term “enabling law” has a chilling ring to it).
Perhaps there is no way to maintain a consensus for limited government, in which case there is not much middle ground between anarchy and despotism. But to most people, it is plausible that there is a middle ground, and you have to recognize their point of view if you want your arguments to register with them.
The transcript is here.
At one point, Shields says
this is beyond the Obama administration. If this goes down, if the Obama — if health care, the Affordable Care Act is deemed a failure, this is the end — I really mean it — of liberal government, in the sense of any sense that government as an instrument of social justice, an engine of economic progress, which is what divides Democrats from Republicans — that’s what Democrats believe.
At this stage, they are inclined to put the blame on the American people. Here is Brooks:
My big thought is, are we no longer the kind of country in which you can pass this sort of thing? And by that, I mean, when you were passing the New Deal or the Great Society, there were winners and losers.
But the losers felt part of a larger collective and they said, OK, I’m going to take a hit for the team. We may no longer have that sense of being part of a larger collective, so when you’re a loser, you just say, I’m a loser. And, as a result, you’re just not willing to be part of the group.
…we have lower social trust, lower faith in the institutions, lower sense of collectivity.
And those are deep social trends that have been building for decades, but it just makes it much harder to sustain this kind of big legislation.
The we-ness of our society, the we, that we’re all in it together, has really been diminished.
To be charitable, this narrative could be correct. That is, it could be that the wonks who designed Obamacare had the right idea, and that the American people are too selfish and too unwilling to trust government to allow it to be implemented honestly and properly.
However, I see things differently.
Start by asking why it is that Healthcare.gov is not as good as Amazon.com or Kayak.com. One answer is that the government is not good enough at deploying information technology. However, I think that is only a shallow answer.
The deeper answer is that when we look at Kayak and Amazon, we are seeing the survivors that emerged from an intense tournament. In this tournament, thousands of competing firms fell by the wayside. Competitors tried many different business models, web site designs, business cultures, and so on.
Healthcare.gov did not emerge from this sort of competition. It came about because Congress passed a law.
Central to my approach to economics, and that of other economists who are variously called Austrians or market-oriented economists or Smith-Hayek economists or what have you, is the respect that we have for the evolutionary process by which markets produce innovation and excellence. My sense is that what divides us from pundits like Brooks and Shields, and even from most economists, is the credit that we assign to market evolution rather than elite expertise as a process for solving problems.
We are sometimes vote-intoxicated: we live in countries that consider voting the legitimate means for collecting [sic] decision making for everything but the extent and the boundaries of the very political community that is supposed to make decisions by voting. The bureaucratic apparatus is happy to have people decide democratically on other peoples’ money and lives, but not to the ultimate question of the survival of a nation state in its current geographical form. Too often secessionist movements are kicked out of the “respectable” public debate by quasi-religious appeal to the apparently immortal value of “national unity”.
I think you will find in general that the political class supports “reforms” that strengthen incumbents institutions and people in power, and that it opposes reforms that strengthen ordinary individuals. Making secession and “foot-voting” easier are examples of the latter.
A reader writes,
However, progressives cannot understand that business owners will reduce staffing when labor costs more. It’s incomprehensible to them. They keep talking about the emotions of those who are making low salaries.
From a three-axes perspective, the problem is pretty simple. A profitable firm pays low wages to workers, either at home or overseas. The firm is presumably able to “afford” to pay workers more, so should it not be pressured to do so? In this context, the firm looks an awful lot like an oppressor, and the workers look an awful lot like the oppressed.
The libertarian (or economist’s) counter is that the workers may end up worse off as a result of a “fair trade” boycott or a higher minimum wage. If these measures cause layoffs, then the workers who lose their jobs are certainly not better off.
I think that the hard part is getting progressives past the intuition that firms can “afford” to pay more. One of the reasons that I try to have my class go through the exercise of planning a simple start-up business is so that they can see that profit is not something that automatically accrues to any business. In general, I think that it is important to get people to think about issues from the standpoint of an entrepreneur, rather than simply treat business as “the other” and the enemy.
In this essay, I offer a deeper diagnosis of the problems with healthcare.gov.
Cutler’s memo strikes me as shallow and self-serving. He is shocked, shocked to find that when his pet health care reforms are passed through the political process, their implementation is hampered by politics. In that sense, Cutler suffers from Fantasy Despot Syndrome.
I go on to contrast people who try to solve problems and undertake reforms by starting businesses with people who try to impose solutions through the political process.
Meanwhile, I’m seeing reports of progress on fixing the web site. It is impressive that the tech folks have been able to improve the performance of the system without any major setbacks (data losses or multi-day outages). They must have a pretty robust release process in place.
Getting the front-end enrollment process functioning should give them time to iron out the remaining technical problems. However, other business issues remain with this startup-without-a-CEO. Will individuals who are not experienced health insurance shoppers be able to figure out how to choose?. Do the insurance plans have enough doctors willing to participate to sustain consumer satisfaction? etc.
My review of The Servile Mind is available. I do not think liberaltarians or bleeding-heart libertarians will be comfortable with Minogue’s swipes at cultural decadence. My conclusion:
Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.
Apropos Halloween, George Paci writes,
Thursday, American children will be going door-to-door making notional
threats in exchange for sugary foodstuffs. (This may or may not be a
good analogy for a particular popular political stance.)
Friday, American children will be making piles out of their loot:
stuff they want to keep, and stuff they want to swap for treats they
actually like. They will then commence creating and participating in
a market, trading things they don’t want for things they want, negotiating
exchange rates between various bite-size currencies, and sometimes
trading things they do want for things they want more, or for more of
something else they want.
They do this entirely out of self-interest: because it will increase
their happiness. No adult needs to coerce them into trading, or
even suggest or facilitate it.
There is no better day to teach kids about the benefits of trade (and
about subjective value), so I propose we promote November 1 as
Benefits from Trade Day.
Self-doubt can be the first step to moral improvement. But our biases are so subtle, alluring, and persistent that converting a wave of doubt into enduring wisdom takes work. The most-impressive cases of bias neutralization I’m aware of involve people who have spent ungodly amounts of time—several hours a day for many years—in meditative practices that make them more aware of the workings of their minds. These people seem much less emotion-driven, much less wrapped up in themselves, and much less judgmental than, say, I am. (And brain scans of these highly adept meditators have found low levels of activity in brain networks associated with self-regarding thought.)
Read the whole thing. I think he is saying that utilitarianism is insufficient as a moral framework, because utilitarians with too much hubris can be morally dangerous. Maybe you will read him differently.