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Paul Romer Q & A: Even Good Guy Mayors Are Powerless

October 1, 2009

Over at the Freakonomics blog, Dwyer Gunn asks the former Stanford professor about Charter Cities:

Q: Why will governments, particularly the entrenched, corrupt governments found in many countries, be willing to cede control of these zones?

Romer: First let me push back on an assumption that many people make and that seems to be implicit in your question. This assumption is that “bad guys” are why so many people are stuck living under bad rules. If you were a good guy and were the mayor of New York, would you be able to build enough consensus to implement congestion pricing for traffic, at least within our lifetimes? Or would you be strong enough to be able to coerce the people who don’t want it to go along?

Narratives about good guys and bad guys are always entertaining, but there is a deeper reason why people get stuck under bad rules. For those of us who live in the United States, it is easier to understand in a context like New York that is more familiar. It is quite possible that its existing political system will never allow an improvement like congestion pricing, and yet many people would happily move to a new city that had sensible pricing and smoothly flowing traffic at all hours of the day. Systems of rules are “sticky”; they are difficult for any leader or group to change.

Read the whole thing here.

  1. kurt9 permalink
    October 1, 2009 9:42 pm

    Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to mere incompetence and ineptitude.

    Much of what makes government a disaster is not due so much to evil intent as it is due to bureaucracy, which by its very nature is dysfunctional.

    • October 2, 2009 4:16 pm

      One of the things that annoys me about Mr Moldbug; or at least his acolytes. He gives this believable, internally consistent model of the state as a beaurocracy of agencies competing for taxpayer pork, each trying to justify it’s own existence, even if it means working against the others, or the American general population.

      Then he can assert that the USG will “never allow” seasteads to prosper. We can see that seasteads are an anathema to the geographic monopoly model of statehood, the USG can see that seasteads are an anathema to the geographic monopoly model of statehood; but diverse departments, directorates and agencies working in concert to bring tactical military might down upon the poor unsuspecting?


      Does this sound like the jobsworth-filled USG you know? Does this sound like the kind of organisation that underfunds it’s revenue collection department?

      Paranoia Fail.

      • DanB permalink
        November 3, 2009 2:10 am

        Agree. The government is evil, but it is evil in the way the Blob is evil, not in the way Dracula is evil. The Blob can’t think far enough into the future to predict that seasteads will threaten it.

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