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.


Governing Seasteads

[Cross-posted at LaTNB]

The Seasteading Institute has just published my paper on governance mechanisms for seasteads. As I point out in the paper, trying to predict what will work ahead of time is not what letting a thousand nations bloom is all about. We do, however, need to start from somewhere and the experience of customary law, private communities, and corporate governance have a lot to teach us. From the conclusion:

Perhaps the single most important point we should take from these case studies, though, is that humans will find ways of solving their problems when low-cost experimentation is possible. In some sense, governance is a hard problem: we simply cannot foresee all the problems ahead of time and devise a good system of rules. In another sense, though, the problem is easy. We know from history that institutional evolution works on land, and there do not seem to be any barriers to it working on the ocean. Of course, this institutional evolution will require careful thinking: it is through conscious effort that good ideas are developed. The magic of ex-post selection only happens ex-post, and a healthy dose of ex-ante common sense and historical knowledge will go a long way in ensuring that early seasteads do not fail due to poor governance.

The paper was a lot of fun to write.  It was great getting extensive feedback along the way from some very smart and distinguished people and putting some of the ideas we discuss here at LaTNB in a form which will hopefully prove useful to future marine real estate developers.


Quote of the Day: Anti-Federalist Edition

When the public is called to investigate and decide upon a question in which not only the present members of the community are deeply interested, but upon which the happiness and misery of generations yet unborn is in great measure suspended, the benevolent mind cannot help feeling itself peculiarly interested in the result.

That’s the opening sentence Brutus #1, from 1787. Politics isn’t policy, however, even at the constitutional level. For related reading, see here.

Brutus on the Optimal Size of Nations

In a republic, the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar. If this be not the case, there will be a constant clashing of opinions; and the representatives of one part will be continually striving against those of the other. This will retard the operations of government, and prevent such conclusions as will promote the public good. If we apply this remark to the condition of the United States, we shall be convinced that it forbids that we should be one government. The United States includes a variety of climates. The productions of the different parts of the union are very variant, and their interests, of consequence, diverse. Their manners and habits differ as much as their climates and productions; and their sentiments are by no means coincident. The laws and customs of the several states are, in many respects, very diverse, and in some opposite; each would be in favor of its own interests and customs, and, of consequence, a legislature, formed of representatives from the respective parts, would not only be too numerous to act with any care or decision, but would be composed of such heterogenous and discordant principles, as would constantly be contending with each other.

That’s from Brutus #1. He has half (and by far the most important half) of Alesina and Spolaore’s model of the optimal size of government. Speaking of which, you should go check out today’s secession week topic at LaTNB!

When I first read the Federalist Papers, I remember being struck by the subtlety of Madison’s public choice theorising. Now that I’m reading the Anti-Federalist Papers, I’m far more impressed with them and inclined to see Madison as naive in comparison. Sadly, I suspect he remains more realistic about politics than any politician who has come since.

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.

Constitutional Dilemmas: The Push for Proportional Representation

Luke Malpass of the Centre for Independent Studies gives an interesting talk (based on a forthcoming paper) on proportional representation and the possibility of bicameralism in New Zealand. In my view, bicameralism is the best constitutional reform for New Zealand which has much hope of succeeding. I’m not sure why it isn’t more of a political issue.

The ‘cult’ political following that Proportional Representation electoral systems achieve in Westminster countries means that it is a matter of when not if pressure for comprehensive PR is going to arrive in Australia. New Zealand has it, Scotland has it, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is holding a referendum on it in England, the very home of the Westminster system of government.

Curiously perhaps, New Zealand is holding a binding referendum on the future of its Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system which was modelled on the German electoral system, and early polling indicates its future is far from assured, due to concerns about its efficacy, and widespread lack of public understanding.

CIS NZ Policy Analyst Luke Malpass discusses his research in this area, looking at MMP, how it has operated and what alternatives exist. With an introduction by CIS Research Fellow Dr Oliver Hartwich.

Behind the Moral Curtain

I’m slow in posting this video of Elise Parham presenting her monograph Behind the Moral Curtain: The Politics of a Charter of Rights. The paper and video are both well worth checking out. Astute viewers may even be able to spot the back of my head in the video.

Elise’s argument is that bills of rights are fundamentally political, rather than legal, documents. This is true in the sense that rights will be interpreted and enforced based on political expediency and prevailing ideologies, as Robert Higgs and others have argued. Elise’s argument is that the writing of a bill of rights is also political. Once a government decides to draft a charter, many competing interests will compete to have their preferences reflected and the end result is unlikely to be a liberal document. Rather, we’ll end up with a whole lot of illiberal, and constitutionally protected, positive rights.

Fear the Boom and Bust

Hayek versus Keynes rap battle.

Many hat tips; most recently Daniel Aguilar via email, which gave me the impetus to post.

I hope Russ Roberts and the econstories crew will consider a rap video of Tullock explaining why government performs poorly. I imagine a hype-man (Charles Rowley?) yelling “Trapzoid, motherfuckers!” somewhere in the chorus.

I Don’t Think the Word “Land” Means What You Think it Means…

Federated Farmers are unsurprisingly upset at the prospect of a land tax:

Federated Farmers’ Rangitikei-Manawatu president Gordon McKellar said a land-based tax would be “a pretty dumb idea”.

The projected profit for a typical 220 hectare Manawatu beef or sheep farm would be about $21,000 for the next financial year but a land tax on the same property could be as much as $24,000 if buildings were included.

If buildings were included, though, we’d be talking about a property tax rather than a land tax. The rationale is to tax something which we don’t need to worry about discouraging: you can’t make more land.

As I’ve said before, I would be very much in favour of replacing current taxes with land taxes, for both moral and economic reasons. Public choice concerns, as they often do, make things more complicated.

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.


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