Friday, April 13, 2012

Skeptical Libertarianism or Skeptical of Libertarianism?

My political beliefs are among my most unusual thoughts (though not unique). Extraordinary beliefs call for extraordinary evidence, so I ought to feel suspicious toward them. But its not easy.

When I look at government, it seems so hidebound, inflexible, non-adaptive. My father-in-law is very convinced that the Scandinavian social democracies have everything licked, so that is evidence against me. My confirmation bias makes me uninterested in actually looking at Sweden, and eager to listen to persons who explain it away with ideas about small ethnically homogenous groups having better tools for dealing with free-riders.

Conventional attitudes seem just as problematic, but they have the advantages of familiarity and popularity.

I need good evidence, but good evidence is scarce in politics. The sample size of government experiments is usually 1, and there is almost never a control group. Supporters love the stimulus and are certain it saved us from far worse. Detractors look at the same outcome and draw the opposite conclusion. There are almost certainly collective goods and coordination problems where the right collective decision could improve significantly over laissez faire, but once the mechanism exists it is vulnerable to serious abuse.

Political events happen at a different scale, what I do about my political beliefs has little/no impact on my life, so weak feedback fails to steer me clear of error.

Market advocates and critics both tend to concentrate their attention on markets. Public choice theorists tried to analyze the government, with varying success. The Chicago guys usually find that government is efficient, despite their association with market advocacy. I'm thinking of Gary Becker. (I of course prefer Bryan Caplan.)

Is there/could there be a Hayek of big government, someone with a deep, relatively optimistic and inspiring understanding of how government can work? There are many kinds of actual markets and actual governments. Hayek explained how markets work and why we need them. Who did that for government, as elegantly? Is it possible? (Update - the Nobel committee seems to be suggesting Elinor Ostrom as a sort of Hayek of the left - I'll have to get her book!)

How is corporate governance different from city governance, or national? Too many variables.
Our theories of the firm are weak, and public choice theories confused.

Could governments use rivalry more? In the US, different levels of government compete in some sense for jurisdiction. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches are rivals in some sense. Different bureaus compete for resources, different legislators compete for influence, votes, and contributions. Could technology, or creativity, take us further in this direction? Would it be an improvement?

Open source software and Wikipedia are examples of collective decentralized non-market non-government phenomena. The gift economy is not the same as government. How can we cultivate it?

Governments vary in size, in democracy, in dynamism, and in centralization. Size consists of scope, budget, revenue, debt, and employment (at least).

Can we also think of government as the stable equilibrium in the big game? Molyneux points out that it is rarely government employees who are the ones that enforce our attitudes toward government, we do it to each other, punishing defection and rewarding loyalty. When I gripe about bureaucrats, its not a buraucrat (usually) that tries to take me down a notch on the internet.

Markets can be thought of as skeptical, as many different approaches can strive, and failure will weed out those corresponding to weaker hypotheses. What is it that weeds out the failures of government? Where could the feedback come from? What are the hypotheses, and how could we test them? Do the various employees and officers of government have the right incentives and information?

Lessig says that code is law. But lately entrepreneurs have used proprietary protocols to add new capabilities to the web, causing concerns about privacy, transparency, monopoly, etc. Diaspora, identica, vs Facebook and google. So in a way, Facebook is writing law. OTOH, I can use diaspora instead.

Is it possible to limit a government with a constitution? Can competition limit government growth? Is government growth inevitable? Can we govern without monopoly? What experiments would reveal the limits of the possibilities, and what would it be worth to know? Is any sort of constitutional change possible in the US now? To what degree has the constitution succeeded in restraining government? The supreme court has guarded certain rights jealously and consistently, abandoned others. Or do I read the constitution with bias?

In my notes I mention that Claude Shannon developed information theory to explain and predict the capacity of noisy circuits to carry information. I've forgotten why I thought that was relevant here. Maybe government is made up of noisy circuits? Or the market is?

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