Another Kind of Libertarianism
Tyler Cowen categorizes the main strains of libertarianism, based on Tom Palmer’s new book, but leaves the Seasteading / A Thousand Nations approach out, as several of the commenters mention.
What should we call this strain? I wouldn’t characterize it as “seasteading” because that is just an implementation method. “Competitive government” or “Meta-libertarianism” or “Second-level libertarianism” are more accurate.
Essentially, this viewpoint states that there are three levels on which we can focus: Policies, Systems/Institutions, and Industry/Ecosystem (the market for government). We believe it is short-sighted to focus on analyzing policy and suggesting better ones, because policies emerge from institutions, and democracy is not an institution which optimizes for good policy. Reforming institutions is worthwhile, and we believe the best way to do this is by making the governing industry more competitive by lowering the barrier to entry and cost of switching providers. This has a number of advantages over other methods, like the ones listed in my Cato Unbound Essay:
- It creates specific, real-world examples to point to when debating the merits of various systems. How many millions of words of academic papers about the benefits of free-markets does it take to add up to the two words “Hong Kong”?
- Prospective customers of the new system could actually experience it physically and emotionally, rather than as a mental abstraction, which is far more powerful for changing minds. For citizens of the USSR, a single visit to the West could outweigh years of Soviet propaganda.
- It enables proponents of an alternative system (like libertarianism) to live their dream much sooner, because they only need to get a small group together to experiment with their new society, rather than convince an entire existing nation (which may never happen).
- It supports an ongoing, evolutionary process where societies learn over time, and change with the world.
- It doesn’t assume there is one best society for everyone. People can attempt to live their ideals without having to impose them on others. Not only does it embrace multiple variants of libertarianism, but other goals and methods for creating a good society. It can gather vastly broader support than any fringe libertarian ideology.
Some other advantages:
- It is humble about our knowledge of what values and institutions make for a good society. We believe the governing industry will, like any market, produce better products for its customers when it is more competitive, and it will do so even if we are currently wrong about how best to design a new nation. In other words, even if libertarianism is wrong or impossible, a more competitive market for government will still improve government.
- It includes a difficult but plausible implementation path (seasteading), whereas with the exception of agorism, none of the other strains have any realistic, incremental way to get from here to there. They may be fun to talk about and imagine, but without any realistic approach, they are idle speculation. Which means if anyone wins, we will. Floating cities are hard, but converting the United States to a Misesian, Catoian, or Hayekian culture is absolutely impossible.
We will be advocating this path, with references (lots of Mancur Olson), but little to no mention of libertarianism, in our upcoming seasteading book.