Patri Friedman on Folk Activism


Unfortunately I can’t add much in the way of comments or thoughts on Patri Friedman’s article titled Beyond Folk Activism published on Cato Unbound yesterday. I just don’t have the time as I have to prepare my 2008 taxes. I’m not joking.

It’s a thoughtful article and I wish I could force* all of my libertarian activist friends to read it.

The underlying reason my original blog autoDogmatic has fallen by the wayside (as far as my own writing is concerned) is because it wasn’t doing much, if any, good — that is, other than to encourage my own teeth-gnashing and bitterness at the current busted systems of control. There was a point where I just realized: this is all nothing more than talk. It’s toothless.

I have no idea of Patri’s specific solution of seasteading will work. However, he’s absolutely right that we need more competition in government and a means to escape the entrenched power structures in place with existing governments. The only way to get “there” from here is to create new frontiers (See my post on Freedom is found at the Frontier), and going to the sea is one way of doing that.

One thing I’d like to add to Patri’s discussion is that governments tend to consolidate power and grow. Thus, not only is the scarcity of frontier-space a problem, but it’s a problem further compounded by the tendency of new government iterations to consolidate power over time. Just look at the transition of individual States in a Union after the Revolutionary War to the United States of America we have today.

I wonder if the search for the most functional and free government is a leprechaun we’ve no hope of catching. This could be because governments are inherently anti-freedom (After all, they are: monopoly of force is always anti-freedom), so their very existence unavoidably negates the goal. I’m not sure it matters. It seems the best solution is to seek out new frontiers. Seasteading, space exploration, and “more fences” via digital encryption all work to achieve more frontier. We need it.

And now I go to work on my taxes. Here’s a clip from the article (be sure to check it out!):

Government is just another industry, where countries offer services to citizens, but it has some unfortunate features. It is a geographically segmented monopoly, and since all land is taken, the industry has an enormous barrier to entry. To start a new government you have to beat an old one, which means winning a war, an election, or a revolution. And it has very high customer lock-in: there are barriers to emigration and immigration, and switching countries involves both high financial and emotional costs. These characteristics result in a horribly uncompetitive industry, so it is no surprise that existing firms tend to exploit customers instead of innovating to attract them.

This analysis neatly avoids moral debates and has clear practical implications: if the problem is an uncompetitive market, the solution is to make it more competitive. It also exposes the futility of strategies that don’t address this issue, like trying to win the war of ideas. While appealing and noble, this is ineffective. Without competitive pressure, our institutions generate flawed policies which benefit the political class, not those that reflect the consensus of academic economists. We need more competition in government, not more academic papers or mindshare.

P.S. Also added Jonathan Wilde and Patri’s new blog, Let a Thousand Nations Bloom to Google Reader.

*Joking, sort of.

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