Australasian Public Choice Conference

I realise this blog has become nothing more than a venue for shameless self-promotion, but I’m okay with that.  I’ll be attending the Australasian Public Choice Conference next week. I’ll be presenting a paper on constitutions; Patri will be presenting our co-authored paper on seasteading as a plenary via video, and Eric will be presenting our co-authored paper on meddlesome preferences in anarchy.

I’m particularly chuffed with the seasteading paper, which considers jurisdictional competition from an evolutionary economics perspective and concludes institutional innovation requires low barriers to entry. And we have a plan!

The other papers at the conference look pretty cool also. I’m particularly looking forward to Xavier Marquez’s presentation on Epistemic Arguments for Conservatism, which he has been blogging about here, here, here, here, and here.


Tilly on Government as Organized Crime

The argument that government is a bit like an extremely-successful mob isn’t new, but Charles Tilly makes the argument better than most:

Apologists for particular governments and for government in general commonly argue, precisely, that they offer protection from local and external violence. They claim that the prices they charge barely cover the costs of protection. They call people who complain about the price of protection “anarchists,” “subversives,” or both at once. But consider the definition of a racketeer as someone who creates a threat and then charges for its reduction. Governments’ provision of protection, by this standard, often qualifies as racketeering. To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket. Since governments themselves commonly simulate, stimulate, or even fabricate threats of external war and since the repressive and extractive activities of governments often constitute the largest current threats to the livelihoods of their own citizens, many governments operate in essentially the same ways as racketeers. There is, of course, a difference: Racketeers, by the conventional definition, operate without the sanctity of governments.


Private Cities and Technologies of Liberation

If you’re reading this blog and not Let A Thousand Nations Bloom, there’s something wrong with you. That’s where I’m doing my substantive blogging – though that’s admittedly not very frequent lately.

My most recent posts:

Analytical Anarchism

I’ve been remiss in not plugging this excellent collection of writing on the positive analysis of anarchism created by Michael Wiebe. There’s a list of published papers and books, and some working papers (including one by Eric and I).

Here’s how Michael introduces the site:

The purpose of Analytical Anarchism is to create an open forum for the academic community to promote and discuss research in analytical anarchism.

What is analytical anarchism? As the subtitle says, it is the positive political economy of anarchism, or simply, anarchism from the economic point of view. Anarchism here simply means the absence of government. Peter Boettke divides anarchist thought into three categories:

1. Utopian — following in the tradition of William Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793).
2. Revolutionary — following in the tradition of Mikhail Bakunin and the First International, 1864-76.
3. Analytical — in the tradition of Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty (1973) and David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom (1973).

The analytical anarchism research program has developed out of this last tradition, and is currently being pursued by economists such as Pete LeesonEd Stringham, and Chris Coyne.

Why anarchy? Research in anarchism has a fundamental theoretical importance for understanding the mystery of cooperation among strangers, which forms the basis of modern social order. Understanding anarchy also has a critical practical importance for transition economies, Third World development, and post-war reconstruction. Economic analysis of these problems cannot assume a functioning state.

For an introduction to the subject, see Boettke’s “Anarchism as a Progressive Research Program in Political Economy.”

Scholars and students working in this field are invited to submit working papers and posts discussing the literature, general issues, potential research topics, etc.

Getting it Said

Kevin Carson at C4SS:

In my opinion the best way to change the laws, in practical terms, is through counter-institution building and through counter-economic activity outside the state’s control:  in other words, to render the laws so irrelevant and unenforceable, by our efforts outside the state, that even the state must make concessions to reality.


It seems to me that statism will ultimately end, not as the result of any sudden and dramatic failure, but as the cumulative effect of a long series of little things.  The costs of enculturing individuals to the state’s view of the world, and of dissuading a large enough majority of people from disobeying when they’re pretty sure they’re not being watched, will result in a death of a thousand cuts.  More and more of the state’s activities, from the perspective of those running things, will just cost more (in terms not only of money but of just plain mental aggravation) than they’re worth.  IOW, the decay of ideological hegemony and the decreased feasibility of enforcement will do to the state what file-sharing is doing to the RIAA.


The most cost-effective “political” effort is simply making people understand that they don’t need anyone’s permission to be free.  Start telling them right now that the law is unenforceable, and disseminating knowledge as widely as possible on the most effective ways of breaking it.  Publicize examples of ways we can live our lives the way we want, with institutions of our own making, under the radar of the state’s enforcement apparatus:   local currency systems, free clinics, ways to protect squatter communities from harrassment, and so on.  Educational efforts to undermine the state’s moral legitimacy, educational campaigns to demonstrate the unenforceability of the law, and efforts to develop and circulate means of circumventing state control, are all things best done on a stigmergic basis.

A thousand times “Yes!”

Democraphobia Goes Mainstream (Sort of)

This op-ed from Tapu Misa contains an odd mix of democraphobia (yay!) and statophilia (boo!). First the good:

The catalyst for the march was the Government daring to ignore the result of the recent ambiguously worded citizens-initiated referendum on the child discipline law.

Which means the Government is clearly undemocratic. “The people are the boss and the Government has to listen to them,” said Craig.

Well, yes and no.

The trouble with the might-is-right, majority rules brand of democracy has always been painfully obvious for those of us accustomed to occupying minority perches.

As Benjamin Franklin put it: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” In a straight-out numbers game, the lamb always loses.

I couldn’t agree more. She goes on, however, to defend a utopian version of representative democracy:

But representative democracy, as advanced by 18th century British MP Edmund Burke, promotes a higher ideal built on notions of the common good.

Burke felt MPs weren’t just delegates, elected to do their constituents’ every bidding. While “their wishes ought to have great weight”, he argued that an MP’s “unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience” ought not to be sacrificed in the process.

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

True to his convictions, Burke backed several unpopular causes during his time in Parliament, knowing that it would probably cost him his seat (which it did), but determined to show “that one man at least had dared to resist the desires of his constituents when his judgment assured him they were wrong”.

He was right. Sometimes, the people can get it badly wrong.

Yes, they can. But so can those representatives they elect to lead. Afterall, they are elected by those same people who sometimes get it badly wrong. Representative democracy does have the capacity to mitigate the effects of moral panics and other short-term fluctuations in preferences. It does this by introducing some inefficiency into the transmission of preferences into policy, however, rather than by electing noble leaders.

There’s simply no justification for the assumption that politicians will be better than the rest of us. Sometimes politicians will make better decisions than the majority; sometimes worse. Representative democracy is still two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, but with some slack in decision-making that may occasionally save the lamb when the wolves have only a fleeting craving.

As Crampton has argued, government implies a trade-off between the costs of populist democracy and self-serving politicians. When we give politicians more power in an attempt to reduce the mob-rule nature of democracy, we enable them to take advantage of the rest of us. As long as we have government, we can only ever strike a balance between these problems, never avoid both (unless we can elect wise and benevolent philosopher kings, of course, which seems to be the preferred option of many).

Still, it’s nice to see something other than democratic cheerleading from the MSM. I particularly like Misa’s conclusion:

As the philosopher and writer Ayn Rand observed, “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by the majority (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”

I find her proposed solution (and Rand’s, for that matter) hopelessly utopian, however. As long as we have government, there’s no way to navigate between the problems of mob rule and arbitrary power and have an acceptable degree of freedom.

Sounds like a good reason not to have government to me.

Private Policing I Find Disturbing

Some residents of New Brighton, Christchurch are sick of the police failing to control crime and have taken to patrolling the streets. I would be all for that were these guys not a bunch of white supremacists.

A “white pride” group, Right Wing Resistance (RWR), claims to be patrolling New Brighton streets that “the police and the system has all but given up on”.

The group, linked to North Island-based white power activist Kyle Chapman, says Christchurch is the centre of a “white pride” revival.

Films of their initiation ceremonies were listed on an internet site for “white nationalists” called WNTube.

A message board used by the group,, said the group was performing “crimewatch patrols” aimed at “cutting down on homie [American rap-style] vandalism and muggings that have become common on the east side of CHCH”.

“The police and the system in general has all but given up on the poor areas and it is left to us to sort this out now,” it said. (…)

Locals were getting very upset with youths, particularly Polynesian youths, standing over people and vandalising.” (…)

If a European youth was found vandalising property: “We’d probably say `Hey, what are you doing? That’s not really the white way’.” (…)

New Brighton Residents Association member George Aorangi Stanley said “boot boys” had been spotted “hanging around looking menacing”.

“I don’t know if you’d consider it patrolling. I just consider them as contributing to the tension.”

The group had correctly tapped into local concern about crime and safety, she said. “It’s the main topic of conversation at the [Residents Association] meetings.”

Aorangi Stanley said the association had discussed doing their own patrols – a “reclaim the night” action – to increase safety.

This is the kind of thing Eric Crampton and I worry about in our paper on meddlesome preferences in anarchy, recently discussed here and here. (New Brighton, by the way, is Eric’s neck of the woods – I wonder if he has noticed anything?) Without government to provide public or quasi-public goods like policing, private clubs will step in to fill the gap. Of course, not all private clubs are created equal and those most able to overcome collective action problems will become more common in anarchy (or, as we see here, dysfunctional government). Further, small groups with intense preferences will have more power relative to large groups with weak preferences in anarchy compared to democracy.

The economics of religion pioneered by Larry Iannaccone, another of the amazingly interesting economists at GMU, suggests that clubs which require costly signals of commitment to the group – often including the internalization of wacky beliefs and efforts to make oneself stigmatized by the outside world –  will be more successful. Iannaccone is interested in sects, but his logic also applies to secular gangs like skinheads. Costly signalling means that we can’t rely on the standard incentive arguments against bigotry being expressed through markets. Beating up Polynesian kids is costly, but if it works to signal one’s commitment to the group, the costliness is a feature rather than a bug. On average, then, high-commitment clubs will instill preferences which favour the violation of others’ rights more than low-commitment clubs. Since these small groups with intense have more say in anarchy (where willingness to pay largely determines outcomes)  than democracy (where the raw numbers supporting some policy largely determines outcomes) , anarchy produces the situation it is least able to handle. So, by the way, does democracy.

Now, if the skinheads in New Brighton really are making the streets safer (which I doubt), the benefits will be enjoyed by residents regardless of whether they join or not. The fact that the group can get a bunch of guys to produce a public good (even if it’s intimidation of Polynesian kids) indicates that they’ll also be pretty good at producing a whole lot of club goods only enjoyed by members. If the role of government decreases, then, the skinheads will attract more members and we should expect more racist violence in New Brighton.

I still favour anarchy, but I do think this is something to worry about. Fortunately, it’s also something that reasonable people can work towards avoiding. The community association conducting its own patrols will reduce the leverage the skinheads can get in the community. More generally, efforts to create non-bigoted groups to voluntarily produce public goods will fill the void sects emerge to fill.


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