Adam Martin on Democracy

His talk is here.

He says that voice tends to be less democratic than exit. Even though everyone has a right to vote, political influence tends to be highly concentrated.

I tried to make the same point, probably less well, in the widely-unread Unchecked and Unbalanced. For a more concise version of the arguments there, see my essay on competitive government. That essay and Martin’s talk go well together.


Cato’s Marian Tupy has praise.

In 1970, the first year for which data is available, Singapore had the third freest economy in the world (behind Hong Kong and Canada). Singapore maintained a high degree of economic freedom over the next 45 years and ranks as the second freest economy in the world today (behind Hong Kong). As late as 1970, per person income in Singapore was 54 percent of the global average. Today it is 321 percent of the global average.

And yet, I once met (At long-time Cato chairman Ed Crane’s annual Salmon fest) an ex-Singaporean who had very negative things to say about the military service requirement and other coercive policies there.

Matt Ridley’s Latest

It is called The Evolution of Everything. He contrasts decentralized trial-and-error evolution with top-down control in many arenas, from biology to technology to culture. My first thoughts.

1. He offers full-frontal libertarianism. On money, he cites Selgin. On education, he cites Tooley. etc. Incidentally, on culture he cites Henrich, whose book I interrupted to read Ridley’s and who does not seem to grasp the libertarian implications of his own work.

2. He cites a legal scholar with whom I was not familiar: Oliver Goodenough. Actually, I met Oliver a couple of times through a mutual friend–more than 40 years ago.

3. On the evolution of marriage, he writes that hunter-gatherer societies are mainly monogamous.

But as soon as farming came along, 10,000 years ago, powerful men were able to accumulate the resources to buy off and intimidate other men, and to attract low-status women into harems. . .If only to try to satisfy the low-status men, societies that allowed widespread polygamy tended to be very violent toward their neighbors. This was especially true of pastoral societies reliant on sheep, goats or cattle, whose wealth was mobile and showed scale economies. . .herders from Asia and Arabia not only experienced chronic violence, but kept erupting into Europe, India, China and Africa to kill men and abduct women.

…The transition to monogamy is a big theme of Christianity. . .The winners from the re-emergence of monagamy in late antiquity would have been the high-born women, who got to monopolize their husbands, and the much more numerous low-born men, who got to have sex at all.

4. On the advantage of urbanization for specialization and trade,

In America as a whole, nearly twice as many people work in grocery stores as in restaurants. In Manhattan, nearly five times as many work in restaurants

5. On the inexorable rise of economic well-being,

Stagnationism has its fans in every generation.

6. On technology, he argues strongly for context as a causal factor (“the adjacent possible”) and against individual agency (the heroic inventor). One implication:

having argued for the incremental, inevitable and collective nature of innovation, I am not a fan of patents and copyright laws. They grant too much credit and reward to individuals

7. Speaking of technology’s evolution, when he writes

The internet revolution might have happened ten years earlier if academics had not been dependent on a government network antipathetic to commercial use.

he is blowing smoke. The arrival of the commercial Internet is instead an example of context. Telecommunications pre-internet used circuit-switching networks. The Internet uses packet switching. Until relatively recently, circuit switching was much less expensive (the cross-over point was roughly the year 2000). Packet switching became economical only after sufficient iterations of Moore’s Law had taken place. In 1985, the cost of building out a mass-market Internet would have been astronomical.

What is the Middle East Endgame?

Danielle Pletka wrote,

contrary to those waxing nostalgic for Saddam or swooning over Egypt’s Sisi, perhaps next time we can recall that it is these dictators that have spawned the extremist opposition that now threatens Americans and Europeans at home. Isn’t the right answer a more robust form of autonomy and federalism, in which groups that aim for self government have some hope of achieving it? Isn’t the answer a group of federalized, representative governments that allocates shared resources justly, rather than on the basis of ethnic and sectarian cronyism?

She wrote that before the Paris attacks, but those reinforced her views. I see elements of wishful thinking there, but that is hard to avoid when coming up with an endgame for the Middle East that sounds positive.

Suppose that the people in the Middle East are not capable of moving to her preferred endgame at the moment. We might want to think through the pros and cons of a different endgame, or midgame: an American military protectorate in what are now the most disorderly parts of the region. Instead of providing asylum to refugees in the United States, we would provide asylum in place.

There would be no democracy under this protectorate. However, the American military rulers would respect individual rights, including property rights. The protectorate would be run using what I call the Basic Social Rule: reward cooperators, punish defectors. If you show that you want to live in peace and work for a living, you are a cooperator. Otherwise, you are not.

There is a joke that what Israel and the Palestinians need are three states: one for the Jews, one for the Palestinians, and one for the people who want to kill each other. The truth hidden in the joke is that the vast majority of people just want to live their lives. The goal of the protectorate is to protect such people from the militants who want to kill for their ideology. The latter would be killed or deported from the areas under the protectorate.
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Imperialism vs. Choice of Government

Nick Rowe writes,

instead of moving the people across the borders, we should move the borders across the people. What people are really voting for, when they vote with their feet, is imperialism. They want to be ruled by foreigners.

This is an oversimplification, of course. But there is a core truth (not at all imperialistic), which is that it would be better to allow people to choose a government rather than be forced to accept a government based on where they happen to have been born, or even where they currently reside. I have suggested the idea of “virtual federalism:” someone residing in Maryland could choose to live under the government of Texas. My progressive friends could have their preferred government, and I could have mine.

Jaworski and Brennan on Markets in Everything

Peter Jaworski and Jason Brennan write,

put philosophers out of the business of talking about the moral limits of markets. The interesting questions about markets are not what we may buy and sell, but instead how we should buy and sell it. Certain ways of buying and selling things might be wrong, but that does not mean the thing in question must never be bought or sold. Perhaps buying sex from a desperate woman exploits her, but that does not imply buying sex is always wrong — you could buy it from someone who is not desperate.

The title of their piece is, “If you may do it for free, you may do it for money.”

In The Secret of Our Success, Joseph Henrich endorses the view that traditional customs surrounding marriage and sex served to tamp down violence. In the absence of other cultural norms, the natural propensity of men would be to compete to have many wives, and this competition would be violent.

A lot of the cultural tension concerns what you may do for free. Extramarital affairs are still frowned upon. Norms about premarital sex appeared to loosen for a while, but perhaps the “yes means yes” movement can be viewed as a sort of backlash.

Perhaps some of the fear about allowing markets in sex is that what people can do for money might affect how other people who are doing it for free. For example, there are those who suggest that pornography has adverse effects on the way people behave in relationships.

Investigating Thought Crimes

This story says

ExxonMobil (XOM) is under investigation by New York’s top law enforcement officer about whether the global oil and gas giant lied to investors and the public about the risks and financial impact of climate change.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed the Irving, Texas-based firm Wednesday night, seeking financial records, statements and other climate-change-related material dating back to 1977, according to a government official with direct knowledge of the matter. The official discussed the issue on condition of anonymity because the subpoena and other details of the investigation remain secret.

How can we stop this sort of behavior on the part of the NY Attorney General?

My suggestion: have the Texas Attorney General launch an investigation into alleged lying by a major New York firm. Goldman Sachs?

Scott Alexander, Mental Underdevelopment, and the Three-Axis Model

On this post,
he starts out with a digression that speaks to the issue of cultural intelligence.

if different cultures progress through developmental milestones at different rates or not at all, then these aren’t universal laws of child development but facts about what skills get learned slowly or quickly in different cultures. In this model, development is not a matter of certain innate abilities like walking “unfolding” at the right time, but about difficult mental operations that you either learn or you don’t depending on how hard the world is trying to cram them into your head.

Most of the post concerns his suggestions for what might constitute mental underdevelopment. I was struck by this one:

I’m not sure whether the Post genuinely believes the Democrats are pro-crime by inclination or are just arguing their policies will lead to more crime in a hyperbolic figurative way, but I’ve certainly seen sources further right make the “genuinely in favor of crime as a terminal value” argument. And this doesn’t seem too different from the leftist sources that say Republicans can’t really care about the lives of the unborn, they’re just “anti-woman” as a terminal value. Both proposals share this idea of not being able to understand that other people have different beliefs than you and that their actions proceed naturally from those beliefs. Instead of saying “I believe gun control would increase crime, but Democrats believe the opposite, and from their different perspective banning guns makes sense,” they say “I believe gun control would increase crime, Democrats must believe the same, and therefore their demands for gun control must come from sinister motives.”

The idea is that seeing an issue from someone else’ point of view requires advanced development. People whose mental development falls short of that will end up making false characterizations of others’ motives. Some thoughts:

1. By this standard, Paul Krugman appears to be mentally underdeveloped, even though he would score well on most measures of intelligence. The same would go for many people who like his writing.

2. Along the three-axis model, you can predict what will happen if people are mentally underdeveloped in this way. A conservative, who is focused on the civilization vs. barbarism axis, will see others as driven to destroy civilization (“Barack Obama’s goal is to destroy America.” “Libertarians are nihilists.”). A libertarian, who is focused on freedom vs. coercion, will see others as driven to destroy freedom (“Progressives want to run the economy.” “Conservatives want to run your personal life.” A progressive, who is focused on the oppressor-oppressed axis, will see others as driven to support oppression (“Conservatives are racist homophobes.” “Libertarians only want to justify the power structure.”)

3. See also David McRaney on the illusion of asymmetric insight, in which we think we understand others better than they understand themselves. Maybe getting past this illusion is a step in mental development.

4. When I worked at Freddie Mac, the senior management worked with some human resources consultants to develop a set of operating principles for improving teamwork among employees. The most interesting principle was “assume positive motivation.” That is, whenever some expresses a point of view that differs from yours, don’t assume that they are trying to cause problems for you or for the team. Think about what positive, reasonable goal they might be trying to achieve.

What is interesting about “assume positive motivation” is how much effort it takes to do it. If you don’t believe me, try to spend a week incorporating this operating principle in every in-person and on-line encounter you experience.

Intellect and Politics

Chris Dillow writes,

I would rather have second-rate politicians who know they are duffers than ones who believe they are brilliant.

Nice line. Read the whole post. Pointer from Mark Thoma.

In The Secret of Our Success, Joseph Henrich argues that individual humans are not so very intelligent on our own. Instead, it is out collective culturally-acquired knowledge that is impressive. One implication that I draw from this is that we should not be looking for some superior intellect to run our lives. Our lives are better run by drawing on our collective wisdom.

A Simple Theory of Government

From Kevin Williamson,

The problem for the U.S. political class is that the provision of actual public goods is nowhere near large enough of an enterprise to justify all of the clients they want to pay on the public payroll or all of the large, complex, lavishly funded agencies that they want to establish for the purpose of putting themselves in charge of them. So they have to return to the old protection-racket model: Much of American government today exists simply to stand between you and your own goals to collect a fee.

I agree with the theory that government evolved as a protection racket. I tend to think that protection rackets are very natural forms of business. You start out by protecting someone from another bad guy. And when you become the top-dog shakedown artist, it still pays to claim to be protecting someone from another bad guy. One can argue that this is why disparagement of the market is such a core part of the ideology of government expansion. What this ideology says is, “You don’t want the market to steal from you, right? Give us money and power, and we’ll protect you.”

Of course, from the point of view of those who support government expansion, it is the market that is a protection racket, and those of us who advocate for markets are the ideologues.