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Low Risk Experimentation

April 16, 2009

I believe strongly that experimenting with new forms of government is important and valuable, as I don’t think democracy is the best form of social organization that we will ever discover.  However, it is also worth keeping in mind that the costs of a failed government experiment can be quite high.  Communism, and the tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of deaths it caused in the twentieth century, was a societal experiment whose failure was disastrous.

A world of experimental government needs ways for new social systems to fail gracefully.  Seasteads may be able to provide this through ease of exit – it’s hard to commit genocide against people who can just sail away.  On the other side, though, distance and lack of connection with the rest of the world may actually increase the chance that a sick society can fester.  (One of many reasons to keep seasteads well-connected to the world).

Anyway, this came up because Nassim Taleb has an opinion article in the FT today on Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world.  Since Governmental Black Swans are even worse than financial ones, we definitely want to avoid them.  Some of Taleb’s principles apply well to both, such as:

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.

One Comment
  1. April 16, 2009 11:55 pm

    I keep thinking on Taleb’s recent comments (also in his recent podcast with EconTalk) and then tying those comments into Seth Roberts discussion about self-experimentation and the need to “do as many experiments as possible.” It seems that we are very poor at planning in advance what will work — thinking things out tending to create faulty experiments. So we’re better off just doing and doing a lot — as many iterations as possible in the hope that eventually we will stumble on knowledge.

    So I think Roberts and Taleb are (perhaps unknowingly to each other) on the same page in this regard, and of course, seasteading would provide a means to pursue many more experiments, increasinging the possibility that we find one that works.

    But I suppose I’m preaching to the choir.

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