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.


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:

Technology and Public Goods

As a wise man once taught me in a public choice class, excludability depends on the state of technology. Example:1 the Pay & Sit park bench.

Design student Fabian Brunsing has devised a fiendish device that makes pay toilets seem positively munificent: Dubbed “Pay & Sit: The Private Bench,” it consists of a bench covered with retractable metal spikes and a coin slot. If you want to sit down on the bench without an array of spikes jamming you in the keister, you’ve got to pay €0.50 (about 70 cents US).

As seen below, this causes the spikes to retract so you can sit on the bench, and also activates a timer. Shortly before the timer expires, you’re warned by a buzzer to get up; then, the spikes shoot back up. Beware!

Spikes, it seems, provide strong incentives.

Hat tip: Anthony Martin.

1. Jumper Colon!

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.

Secession Week

If you’re a fan of political decentralization, you should check out Secession Week at Let A Thousand Nations Bloom. Today’s topic is “Introduction: Independence Is Better Than Revolution”, and there a couple of great posts by Bill Miller and Patri. I’ll have some stuff to say about the size of nations tomorrow.

Here’s the schedule for the week:

  • Monday: Introduction, Independence Is Better Than Revolution
  • Tuesday: The size of nations.  Is smaller better?  What determines size?
  • Wednesday: Culture and secession. We usually take an economic approach, but most secession movements base their arguments on group identities.
  • Thursday: Economic Secession, from Agorism to tax havens. What are the ways market-based, voluntary institutions can pave the way for incremental secession from political institutions?
  • Friday: Is it possible for a state to secede from U.S.? Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has written that, if any constitutional issue was resolved by the Civil War, it’s that there’s no right to secede. Is the U.S. forever to be, as the Pledge of Allegiance has it, “one nation, indivisible”?
  • Saturday: Was the American Revolution a Mistake? We’ll don our counterfactual hats to discuss revolution skeptics like Bryan Caplan.
  • Sunday: Final Roundup. We’ll circle wagons, round up the action, and launch of few final squibs and fireworks.

Blogging at A Thousand Nations

I’ve been doing some blogging at Let A Thousand Nations Bloom. I only have a couple of posts so far: one short post on Gibraltar succumbing to international pressure not to compete on taxes and another, which is a bit more substantial, on the possibility of voluntary institutions reducing demand for government.

Reasonable Homunculi Can Disagree: The Impossibility of Welfare Economics

I’ve just uploaded a new working paper, which is a slightly edited version of a chapter from my thesis, to SSRN. Here’s the abstract:

This paper draws on the “preference reversal” literature in psychology and behavioural economics to argue for the impossibility of welfare economics. The effect of normatively-irrelevant contextual factors shows that humans do not have a coherent preference function which pre-exists and informs choice. Every choice is a constructive act which forces us to choose among incommensurable values: choice creates preference. This rules out the possibility of a value-free welfare economics and forces social scientists wishing to make normative conclusions to engage in indeterminate moral reasoning.